Tuesday, July 15, 2014

the ap exam: it happens every year

I just got the scores from last May's AP exam and it happened again.  Students who didn't think they could take an AP literature course, much less pass the exam, did. 

And students who thought they knew how to game the system failed.  Each of the last three years, some of our school's most notorious Type-A high-achievers got 2s.  If that profile in any way describes you, consider treating this learning experience as something beyond your to-do list.  You can't prepare for this test at the last minute by doing practice questions any more than you can prepare to die by taking naps in a graveyard.

Over the past three years students who have taken this course have taken and passed the AP English Literature & Composition exam in greater numbers than their counterparts in previous years or in current years at other schools in our area.  Some people look at that and give me credit; others look at the pass rate (about 50%) and want to hold me responsible for the cup being half empty.  However, while I'm proud to provide the opportunity to learn many things through this course, including how to prepare for the AP exam, I take neither credit nor responsibility for test scores.  That is a difficult thing to say publicly in a culture in which test scores are all the rage.  But the simple fact of the matter is that I'm not the one who has to sit in that room for three hours answering multiple choice questions and writing essays.  I've already come to the crossroads in my life and decided whether to read, to complete my work with integrity, to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone, and to do whatever is necessary to achieve the peace of mind that comes from knowing I did my best.

Now it's your turn.

We live and work in a community with 100,000 people, nearly 80 churches, and not one single new book store.  There is obvious economic and cultural disparity.  Lots of kids get to high school without ever having read a book.  Some of these factors you can't control.  But the illusion many of you operate under is that school will even the playing field for you.  It won't.  A recent study confirms that college "perpetuates class divides"-- so rather than waiting for another group of well-intended, hand-wringing adults to figure things out for you, you need to begin taking charge of your own learning.

I don't intend this to sound harsh.  I choose my words intentionally because we live in an era where unfortunately I can't even jokingly request that you not shoot the messenger.  But the fact of the matter is that AP is not a "college prep" course; it is a university-level course that just happens to take place on a high school campus (and, in our case, on the Internet).  With that in mind, you should be aware that if you haven't yet started the summer reading, you are behind.  If you haven't yet created your blog, you are behind.  If you are telling yourself that it will all work out some other time, you are fooling yourself.

It really doesn't matter that this course is designated "AP"-- I taught the same way when I taught Writing Interventions, or English as a Second Language at schools in the inner city, or UCLA courses, or strategic planning to executives, or woodworking to fifth-graders in summer camp...  The real value of this course in your life has nothing to do with a grade.  The grade is a superficial, market-based symptom of your performance.  You'll know whether this course has internal value for you after it's over, when you are on your own and using or not using what you've learned.  Learning is something you do, not something that can be done to you or for you.  The sooner you recover from following directions and begin creating your own path (you can start with your big question, or push me to start in a different way) the better off you will be.  If passing the AP exam is important to you, start thinking about what you need now and put me to work so that you get it over the next 10 months.

The strong will always survive and the incompetent will always be revealed.  The good news is that all of us in between-- me included-- have an ongoing opportunity to improve and show what we can do.  You have my full support.  I will work hard for you.  And I hope you are prepared to work hard for yourself.  I want each and every single learner in this program to find his/her path: to college, to entrepreneurship, to personal enlightenment, to... [?]  My job is to provide the environmental conditions (sunlight = transparency on the public Internet; water and nutrients = information, encouragement, freedom, trust) that provide optimal conditions for growth.  The rest is up to you flowers. 

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