The Corner

Schools Shutting Out Some Top Students from AP Courses

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that some high schools have made advanced placement (AP) courses open to all students regardless of ability. If an AP class is oversubscribed, the schools use a random lottery to determine who gets in, meaning some of the best students can be shut out.

This is a really bad idea. An AP course is supposed to teach college-level material, and high-school students can earn college credits if they pass one or more AP tests at the end of the year. These classes should be reserved for students who have demonstrated their potential to do high-level work. And if there is a limit on how large the classes can be, priority should be given to the students who are most likely to benefit.

What’s going on here? One might be tempted to blame the policy on testing companies. I recently wrote about how the College Board foments a yearly panic over low SAT scores in order to keep the test relevant. Not surprisingly, the College Board is also pushing open enrollment in AP courses. The College Board sells the SAT ($51) and the various AP tests ($89 each).

But the problem runs much deeper than one organization trying to sell tests. Schools increasingly pursue egalitarian outcomes rather than tailor instruction to students based on their individual needs. Kids at both ends of the ability spectrum are hurt in the process.

It’s ironic how tests have been re-purposed in the service of egalitarianism. The SAT is normally used by selective colleges to help differentiate applicants, but now the College Board uses it to push a college-for-all ideology. AP courses were intended to give an extra challenge to the most capable students, but now the same courses are seen as tools for closing the achievement gap. Welcome to the strange world of American education policy.

Jason Richwine — Jason Richwine is a public-policy analyst and a contributor to National Review Online.

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