Monday, August 10, 2009

Selecting AP Teachers--Who Decides and How?

Last semester, department chairs, AP teachers, and administrators stayed late one evening to codify the requirements for selection of AP teachers. Since having one's syllabus approved by the College Board was a given, we then came up with several other criteria. The first four received the majority of the votes:
1. Percentage of students who take the AP test at the end of the term
2. Formal training with the College Board
3. Teaching experience (in particular, teaching AP)
4. Higher degrees like an MA or PhD

The following criteria were suggested but did not receive the highest votes:
5. Pass Rate on the AP exam
6. College teaching experience
7. Student evaluations

The final criterion, though suggested, did not receive any votes:
8. Rotating AP classes among several teachers

When I asked my students--our clientele!-- to vote on these same criteria, needless to say their values fell in with mine. Here are there first four picks:
1. AP teaching experience
2. College teaching experience
3. Higher degrees
4. Student Evaluations

They felt pass rates were important but not as important as the first four, and what they rated dead last were the percentage of students who take the test and rotation among teachers. They felt rotating the course among several teachers was inconsistent with the AP teaching experience requirement, and they felt it should be a foregone conclusion that students who take the time to take an AP class would take the AP test at the end of the year.

Administrators aim to fill AP classes with students at varying levels of ability, and one of the problems with this "philosophy" is that when students understand they are in over their heads, they don't want to pay for or give up the time to take an expensive exam they know they won't pass. This is why the administrators place a premium on the percentage of students who take the test at the end of the term. It's all about the numbers. For administrators it is more important for students to take the class and the test than it is for them to pass the class and the test because the administrators "believe it is more important that everyone have access to the experience of AP." Well, what experience is that exactly if the teacher cannot teach to the level such courses signify or if the teacher teaches to the right level and in the process leaves all the students in the dust? But let's not retread that ground just yet.

The issues surrounding the AP teacher selection process are in keeping with the problems of teacher accountability in general: WHO DECIDES? and HOW? Despite this lengthy meeting, the administration selected an AP teacher who is not particularly collegial, but very well versed in union protections and the privileges of seniority (another criterion we did not even mention, though it might be implied by teaching experience). They made a unilateral decision to avoid the teacher's angry protests by stating that they felt rotation among teachers was the most important criterion--this, even though everyone who voted on the selection criteria had all but dismissed it!

Fortunately, the excellent teachers with whom I have worked do not need to teach an AP course to know they are excellent teachers. They teach every course with the same curiosity, intelligence, enthusiasm, and rigor. Teachers who believe the AP label implies their effectiveness are in keeping with the administrative philosophy that "everyone should have access to AP." Again, let's not forget that this access does not an AP student--or AP teacher--necessarily make.

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