Sunday, December 28, 2008

Scarsdale and AP Tests

How do you rank high schools? U.S. News & World Report does it by calculating the ratio of students taking AP (Advanced Placement) exams to the number of graduating seniors. U.S. News & World Report has documented their methodology and you can see for yourself. Of course, this allows schools to "game the system" by forcing all seniors to take AP exams. (Newsweek magazine has their own list and they too like AP tests.) But who says taking Advanced Placement courses provides children with the best education? The Advanced Placement tests are a money making project of the College Boards.

It's been reported in the New York Times, "Scarsdale Adjusts to Life Without Advanced Placement Courses," by Winnie Hu (December 6, 2008) that Scarsdale is de-emphasizing Advanced Placement courses because Scarsdale High School believes it can provide a better education for its students without AP courses. They offer "Advanced Topics" classes instead.

Schools cannot allow the College Board to control education. The College Board is a corporation headed by a CEO who is not an educator; he is a former politician. School districts need to provide their students with the best education possible to face a complicated and uncertain future, and that won't happen by taking direction from a corporation.

If the Plano Independent School District wants to offer a superior education to its students, then the Plano ISD needs to identify its own list of the best high schools in America, ignoring U.S. News & World Report and Newsweek, and consider what features of the truly superior schools PISD might duplicate.

Plano could share its list and charge fees for details from the PISD analysis of the best schools. Maybe Plano would not rank in the top 10 or even top 50 of the best high schools in America on its own list, but it could certainly put itself squarely in the national picture of education by thinking independently, by establishing relationships with the very best schools in America, and by liberating schools from the shallow assessments of for-profit magazines.

Plano ISD needs to think for itself.

Robert Canright

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