Should high school freshmen take AP classes? Many do.

Today’s announcement that the U.S. Department of Education awarded more than $21.5 million in grants to 43 states, including Georgia, to cover some of the fees charged to low-income students for taking Advanced Placement tests reminded me a question I wanted to ask.

When should high school students take AP classes?

I attended an education conference about 10 years ago where a panel of experts said AP classes should ideally be taken in a high school student’s junior and senior years. The panelists maintained that students who take AP classes earlier in high school don’t do as well on the AP exams, which are scored on a 1-5 scale. Most selective colleges will not give credit for an AP course if the score is not a 4 or 5.

A north Fulton student about to start high school told me he was enrolled in AP Human Geography. That seems to be the typical class taken by freshmen as it’s considered easier than most AP courses. You can read what students say about it here.

To confirm, I looked at a 2011 College Board report on which AP courses students took and when; 46,000 high school freshmen took AP Human Geography.  The next highest tally for ninth grade was AP World History with 11,400 freshmen taking it. In comparison, 195 took music theory, which is considered a very tough course.

All total, 71,673 students took AP classes in the ninth grade.

But 42 percent of freshmen who took AP Human Geography earned a 1 on the exam, the equivalent of failing.

So, does it make sense to take AP classes that early?

By the way, Georgia is receiving $383,357 from the USDOE, which ought to help a lot of students cover part of the cost Advanced Placement exam.

Based on the anticipated number of test-takers and other factors, the grants under the US DOE Advanced Placement Test Fee Program are expected to be sufficient to pay up to $38 per Advanced Placement exam for as many as three exams per student. (That does not cover the full cost of the exams, which is $87.)

“Advanced Placement participation is an important element in creating a college-going culture in our high schools,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “AP courses help students develop the study skills, critical reasoning and habits of mind that prepare them for the transition to college. They give students — particularly first-generation college-goers — the confidence that they can successfully handle college-level work.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

105 comments Add your comment

Ron F.

August 1st, 2012
5:43 pm

To be honest, I don’t think kids are developmentally ready for AP as freshmen or sophomores. My oldest, who is mature for his age and smart, took AP Biology in his sophomore year. What we learned is that he was more concerned about learning to drive and girlfriends than the hours he needed to devote to studying his AP coursework. That was challenging for both of us. In retrospect, it was a struggle for which I wish we had waited a year. He’s much more mature going into his junior year. If you look at brain research, the demands of college level courses are not something most 15 year olds can handle. It’s not their fault, it’s just where they are in the growing up process. Some kids can do it and should be allowed to if they wish. In my opinion, AP courses for freshmen and sophomores should be limited and the kids screened carefully.

Atlanta Mom

August 1st, 2012
6:04 pm

I believe you have a transposition for your AP exam cost. It should be $83, not $38.


August 1st, 2012
6:06 pm

No! I don’t think the majority of students a mature enough. They shouldn’t take them until the sophmore year and if they have the GPA and test scores to show they are capable to handle the load. Most of the freshmen at my son’s hs failed AP HG. Teacher even said the failure rate was high. My question is why continue to hurt a kids GPA an self esteem. Is it about the school getting extra money?

William Casey

August 1st, 2012
6:13 pm

I totally agree with Ron F. about 9th & 10th graders. With rare exceptions, thet are just not developmentally ready for real college courses.


August 1st, 2012
6:31 pm

I teach these students and in some areas the students use AP classes as a GPA booster and fall asleep during testing. Stop paying for the exams and save your money. When I went to school, I took, NO AP classes and I graduated from college. Here is my question…. do students really have that much advantage taking these classes or are you stressing all parties out (school, parents, students, and teachers). Is this a money maker or money waster? How many students (look at minorities) are making 4s and 5s?


August 1st, 2012
6:50 pm

When my son was in 9th grade, he, as well as approximately 80 other 9th graders at Lambert High, scored a 4 or a 5 on the AP Human Geography exam. That equates to at least 15% of the 9th graders being prepared for an AP class.


August 1st, 2012
7:19 pm

Yes. Students should be able to take advanced classes as early as possible in their academic careers. We should not use artificial means to hold them back. By this I’m referring to the ever-popular seat time requirements and some of the filler courses on graduation requirement checklists.

Ron F.

August 1st, 2012
7:32 pm

Tony: with careful screening, I would agree. We have kids in middle school who could do AP coursework if properly identified and offered the challenge. I don’t regret my son trying, even if his AP test score was a 1. But I think the screening process should be such that we more precisely identify and offer these courses to kids who are truly ready, and that number will be small.

Freedom To Pursue Knowledge

August 1st, 2012
7:55 pm

Many students may not be ready for AP classes as a freshman,but
I think the option should be available to students demonstrating the
appropriate grades in previous course work, and the motivation to
work hard to learn the information. Students will have different
reasons for seeking to take the AP courses as a freshman. Some
students will take the courses,because they want to gain an advantage
in being accepted into the university of their choice. Some students
might receive encouragement from parents, family members, or friends
to take the AP courses as a freshman.Some students might also see
the AP courses as a way of reducing their future college costs, and
positioning themselves to be in a better position of receiving scholarships.
Regardless of the stated reasons, the choice should be available to
students that meet certain basic academic requirements. The fact that
many students scored a “1″ does not mean that the student did not
academically grow from stretching his,or her boundaries in the course.

My Two Cents

August 1st, 2012
8:13 pm

If the students qualify let them take the AP class. No sense in having a gifted child warm a seat and be without challenges.

Freedom To Pursue Knowledge

August 1st, 2012
8:16 pm

The fact that many freshman students scored a “1″ on various AP Tests
does not mean that the students did not develop some essential skills in
the various subject areas, Students will often gain valuable lessons by
stretching beyond their perceived academic boundaries (Even if that
progress is not reflected immediately in a test score).

teachers union will destroy us

August 1st, 2012
8:16 pm

We should never challenge our students then we may see some are better than others. The goal of our system is for EVERYONE to move forward regardless of ability and to employ as many union due paying members as possible. :)

suwanee dawg

August 1st, 2012
8:22 pm

Not sure why you will not post this… We should never challenge our students then we may find some are better than others. The purpose of our system is to promote EVERYONE regardless of work and ability, and to employ as many union paying members as possible.

Here is a better answer – let’s spend more money, reduce class sizes develop a new philosphy, etc. This strategy over the last 30 years has worked very well as our world education rank continues to decline. :)


August 1st, 2012
8:24 pm

Packing an AP class with students who are not ready and will score 1 and 2 on the AP exam holds the other students who are qualified to do the AP work back. Ask any AP teacher and they will tell you they end up teaching to the majority of the class. There is nothing “wrong” with students who are not capable of scoring a 3, 4 or 5 on an AP exam in high school. Chances are many of them will do fine on that subject when they get to college. For many of them, they just aren’t ready for college level work. Placing them in AP classes will not “get them ready”. It’s more a function of maturation – intellectual, emotional, etc. There is a world of difference in a 15, 16 or 17 year old in high school and an 18 year old in college. AP stands for Advanced Placement. If a student is not ready for Advanced Placement or college level work, then they should not be “placed” in the class.

AP classes have become more about pumping up college resumes and less about placing students at a level appropriate to their interests, ability and maturity.

Students should be screened by teachers based on previous classes. For example, if a student struggled with concepts in math classes, why place them in AP Chemistry or AP Biology? If they do not have the math background, it’s a pretty safe bet they will need “remediation” in math in order to vertically build on the math background necessary to understand the concepts taught in AP Chemistry or in the biochemistry section of AP Biology.

There is no room in the AP Chemistry or AP Biology curriculum (set by the College Board) to “remediate” students. Thus, so many 1s and 2s in those subjects. When the AP teacher takes up time in class to “remediate” the majority of the class, the curriculum is not adequately covered and those students who are qualified to take the AP classes (i.e. they have the solid math background) are the ones who suffer. The qualified students will not get the full curriculum, and they will not score as high as their potential allows.


August 1st, 2012
8:25 pm

An extremely exceptional student, perhaps. But your “run of the mill” bright/gifted kids–no. It isn’t that they can’t “do it” or “get it” but that how many 14 year olds are really ready for college? To get the maximum?


August 1st, 2012
8:42 pm

This one is a No Brain-er! In the minority community alone over 90% of those who go on to college, are now required to take remedial courses in their first year before
taking any courses related to their chosen major. This requirement is necessary to prepare them for success in college level classes. Those students who perform successfully in High school AP courses are typically exempt from this requirement.
The success of the AP courses prepares all students for the next level of education.
Unfortunately, it is not typically open or offered as a choice for the average student.
School politics typically dictates which students are chosen and which ones are left out. Pretty much like the Charter Schools of selective selection.


August 1st, 2012
8:53 pm

The sooner the smart kids are challenged by difficult courses, the better. They have to learn to put in the hard hours of study if they want to succeed. The Asian high school kids in my neighborhood can be seen studying late into the night, they put in the extra effort.


August 1st, 2012
9:01 pm

Totally depends on the student, so the opportunity should not be denied to students who want to attempt it. I’ve known several students who were mathematically gifted who took AP Calculus BC as 9th graders and made 5s. To not have allowed them to take that class would have been a waste of their time, obviously.


August 1st, 2012
9:20 pm

I remember the high school advisor asking my freshman daughter why she would “want to study so hard” when he looked at her proposed schedule. Before I could say anything, she looked at him and asked if there was somehting about her academic history that indicated she could not handle the coursework. Rather sheepishly, he looked back a couple of pages in the record ( I think for the first time) and admitted there was no good reason she could not handle the assignments. Hopefully this purveyor of low expectations was not in the job long.

She was so excited to finally escape the low expectations and academic boredom of middle school, she could not wait for more challenging material and more competent teachers.

Let the kids perform.

Georgia and education not compatible

August 1st, 2012
9:51 pm

I hope many of you know that AP/IB and Honor’s courses may get to earn extra money. Why? It could be considered a “gifted” course.

So there may be another reason for freshmen and sophomores being placed in these courses. Not saying that kids can’t excel, because some clearly do, but I think they need additional development.

My middle child is taking her second AP course. She is a sophomore in high school. I worry about the workload since college courses are NOT everyday classes. I prefer dual enrollment.

Conversely, my college bound student only took the AP courses because the classes were smaller.


August 1st, 2012
9:56 pm

The conversation here is about students taking AP classes in middle and schools and are these students ready for these classes in early grades. Well, does anyone out there have the stats on how many of these students taking AP courses are really prepared for college. There are too many students taking these courses that I have seen that are not able to keep up or compete in college.
I have also, seen that AP courses become a parents bragging right instead of focusing on their child’s needs, progress or regresses.

A Teacher, 2

August 1st, 2012
10:45 pm

One of the key points to emphasize is that AP and IB classes are college level content classes. I continue to be amazed at the parents that do not understand this. A couple of years ago at 9th grade orientation, I was speaking to a group of parents who openly challenged me when I stated that AP Human Geography would be their kid’s first college class. One mom even said, “but the teacher will not really teach on that level.” She kept on and on and on. Many other parents agreed with her. They all had a fit when their kids failed the first two tests, then they wanted the kids out of the class, and they gave the teacher a difficult time for doing what he was supposed to do.

People, AP and IB classes are not just currency to be used by students on the next level. Students are expected to PRODUCE in these classes. Those that do not produce do not usually do very well on the tests. IB classes require much thought and “big-picture” thinking. Those that think learning is memorizing a bunch of information from stacks of index cards usually make a 1 or a 2 on the exam.

I am all for challenging kids, but the kid has to do more than just show up!

Dr. Monica Henson

August 1st, 2012
11:16 pm

I’ve taught Advanced Placement courses in English and have taught English on the college level–I taught my AP courses as college courses in terms of content and the amount and level of writing required. As a general rule, they are better suited to older high school students who have developed the study skills and work ethic necessary to handle college-level courses. I’m now an administrator who makes decisions on student placement. Would I bar a 9th or 10th grader from an AP course? Not necessarily. However, I’d take it on a case-by-case basis and a young high schooler would have to convince me with some evidence that (a) they’re ready for that level of work and (b) they can handle the workload.


August 1st, 2012
11:40 pm

@A Teacher, 2 and Dr. Monica Henson,

As a general rule, they are better suited to older high school students who have developed the study skills and work ethic necessary to handle college-level courses.
Students should not be better suited to studying when they get to 11th and 12th grades. I am appauld
that we think so little of students abilities at the elementary and middle grade levels. Students all students should be intensely exposed to the development of proficient study skills. Students at the elementary level are babied and at the middle level not held with strict responsibility for their lack of and actions. This country needs to force parents to be more effective with their children just as so many other countries make their parents. There needs to be strict very strict academic responsibilities held at the elementary level beginning at the kindergarten level.

We are the land of the free to be dumb and dumber and not at all competetive with other countries on an academic level. However, we do make them competetive on the olympic level, and sports.
Oh and let me not forget to mention who’s being viewed as the competetors.


August 1st, 2012
11:53 pm

Off topic: Panthergirl, do you go to GSU basketball games and sit on the sidelines?


August 2nd, 2012
12:54 am

The only real advantage this class gives is to beef up their college resume. If you look carefully at the college your child wants to attend you will find that there is no guarantee that a credit will be given to them in college for that class. Each school has different rules. When my daughter was looking at colleges, a lot of them would not accept her sophomore AP World History even though she got a 4. A private college that a family member went to only accepted the AP courses that were in her major. I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t take them if they are ready, but my rising 9th graders chose not to take AP HG and I’m glad. There will be plenty of time for that next year and beyond.

another comment

August 2nd, 2012
1:12 am

I believe that the biggest problem is that there is a disparity from school to school and difinitely district to district how Honors, AP and IB classes are taught and scored. My 17 year old has attended the IB schools in both Cobb and Fulton County, Campbell and Riverwood.

First of all, one would think that the IB programs would be identical, they are not. Cobb’s IB program starts with the Pre IB classes in 9th grade. Riverwood’s does not until 11th. Riverwood allows you to pay tuition and come in from out of district, Cobb does not. Cobb is on a 4/4 schedule at Campbell, Riverwood is on a 7 course traditional full year class schedule. Cobb grades on A,B, C, D. Fulton grades on letter grades, then converts to only A, B, C.

Cobb County only gives extra bonus points for AP classes in Freshman year. Say if you take AP Human Geography and get an A instead of a 4 quality points you get a 5. Even if you are in the IB program you are not allowed to earn any additional qaulity points in any Pre-IB classes or in any Honors classes taken Freshman year. After Freshman year you can earn .5 additional points for Honor’s classes and 1 for IB or AP. The Pre-IB Classes my daughter took in Cobb County Freshman year were the most ridiculous make work, lack of relevancy to real college classes that I have ever seen. ( I have I B of Arch. from a Private top 20 Research University and a Master’s in Engineering from the top rated Engineering University in my Major, so I know what academic rigor is.).

Freshman IB and AP/Honor track students in Cobb County are encouraged to take AP Human Geography. I helped my daughter review flash cards she made up for each test. Many of the topic studies and boundries did not exist 35 years ago when I was in high school ( when there was no AP). She was on of the few in the class who got an A in the class a 91, or a 5. I paid the full cost for the AP test and was shocked when she got only a 2, on it after getting an A. I knew she knew the contents since I reviewed it with her for every test and exam. I had been a TA in graduate school. She later told me that only one kid at her school got a 5, everyone else got 1’s or 2’s.

I was surprised that over at Riverwood they did not even offer AP Human Geography.

During my daughter’s second year in Cobb, she took AP Psychology, and AP World History. I loved the Psychology course, she told me that many took it thinking it would be an easy A. I once again reviewed it with her before every test. She again received a 91, one of only two A’s in the Class or 5 quality points. Then she took the AP exam and again received only a 2. She also took AP World History. My daughter was not as enthoused about that class, and would not share my enthusiusm for World History she ended up with a 83, a B, which ended up earning her 4 quality points. She once again earned a 2 on the exam. She told me that only 4 people in her whole class took the AP exam, even though most of the class were Free lunchers and the county paid for their exams. I had to pay for both exams which I willingly did.

Now in Fulton County they only add 7 points to the numeric grade of an AP class score or and Honor’s class. So in my opinion what is the incentive to take the much harder AP classes over AP, when you only get the same 7 points added to your numeric score. Where as in Cobb you get .5 added to the numeric equivalent to an A, B, C or D. for honors or you get a whole point for an AP or IB. So it is much more adventagous to try the harder AP or IB courses.

In Cobb the biggest advantage of taking the AP classes was getting the smaller class sizes, less than 20. Sometimes much smaller. Also, avoiding riff raft in your classes. Honor classes also helped with that as well, especially the honor science classes.

Junior year, I sold my house and moved to the Riverwood District, my daughter went to Riverwood for the first semester. She encountered a couple of the worst teachers of her entire school career. Including the AP US History teacher. He announced at the Parent meeting that he liked to see these kids who had never seen failure fail. That was his goal. He was the baseball coach, and he believed that everyone should experience failure, and he goes on that most of these AP kids have not experienced failure before. At Christmas break my daughter went back to Cobb County to live with her father, and go back to the Cobb County Schools. At that time, the average in this AP US History Class was about 10 points less than failing. my daughter’s grade was barely passing. She had been assigned a project to look up on the internet newspaper articles from the Middle Colonies during pre-revolutionary times, for a report. The teacher claimed they were available for free on the internet. They were not. The only newspaper at this time was Benjamin Franklin’s newspaper, I had to buy an expensive on-line subscription to access these. Other students had much easier topics, such as sufferage or the Civil war. I let the teacher fully know my opinion on having to purchase the expensive subscription to do the work. I also feel that the AP US History quizes and tests are extemely nitpicky and irrelevant. I took several of them on-line to see if it was just my daughter or what. (I had received the highest score on the New York State Regent’s US. History Exam for the entire State of New York in 1977). The pettiness about the quaker religion is ridiculous on the US History Quizes. It is should not be on but a couple of general questions.

My daughter was so turned off by this AP History US History Class that she went back over to Cobb and took Honors US History that was actually a fun and relevant class. She had a fun teacher that made learning US history interesting. I would not recommend anyone take AP US History, as the AP test people have made it petty and irrelevant, it is not what you learn in college.

My daughter did go from taking Honors American Lit. at Riverwood to upgrading to AP American Lit, in Cobb, because the school only had on level and AP. The AP class was easier that the Honor’s class in Fulton. She got a 91 on the AP class. We haven’t received her AP scores yet, since I found out yesterday, Cobb County had an address three houses ago, not even the one on the report card.

The one good thing was the counselor at Riverwood was pushing for my daughter to do Dual Enrollment. The Counselor in Cobb was going to let her do minimum day, which I was oppossed. Now that counselor has been reduced to 1/2 time. I convinced my daughter over summer that Dual enrollment was her best option. She was tired of taking AP classes. I told her that minimum day would not be looked at highly by upper tier colleges. She was accepted at the Dual Enrollment at GPC without a problem. With a new counselor at Cobb, who was very professional yesterday, she quickly signed off on it. Even though Cobb does not give any additional quality points points for dual enrollment classes ( which are actual college classes), unlike Cherokee where all the fuss has been about them giving extra quality points and dual enrollment students becoming valdictorians. I have explained to my daughter, that dual enrollment is the only way to guarantee that she is actually taking college courses, that will count. My nephews had taken AP classes in another state and had 4’s not accepted by their Universities.

By the time she graduates from High School in May 2013 my daughter should have a minimum of 15 credit hours of actual credit hours and be able to get her BS in 3 1/2 years. These, 5 classes are all covered by the Hope Scholarship. I only had to pay $225 in Fee’s today for the 2 classes she will take in the fall. I will also have to pay for the books. If she gets A’s on these 5 classes and the 1 or two core classes she takes at school then she may also be able to inch her unweighted GPA up from 3.578 to 3.7 for the full Zell Miller Hope. She won’t have to worry about some ego manic High School teacher teaching and AP class who think they should teach smart kids a lesson by failing them. She should be able to acheive A’s while easing her way into college classes at GPC living under my guidance and not in a college dorm or soriety house. We will see.

The reality is that top colleges expect students to have challenged themselves with AP classes. The Hope Scholarship will require them in the future.

another comment

August 2nd, 2012
2:09 am

My oldest child was fortunate enough that I could afford Catholic School through 8th grade, she would have been bored to death without honors and AP classes. Plus it also eliminates the troublemakers.

I am sick everyday, that this State’s male legislature led by Ernhart, will not make men pay for Private School, that their children had been attending at the time of a divorce. Even when the men, were abusive and the cause of the divorce. My poor 12 year old has suffered immensely by being forced into the public schools after her father bounced a check for his share of the Catholic School tuition. All his tuition was then deducted from my child support, which he did not pay. My 99% on the IOWA test child has been bullied in Public school, to the point of being assulted. She is bored to death with all the on-level and below kids. She was an Obama Scholar in 5th grade. But last year in 6th grade she refused to go to school 36 days, because she was sick with stomach aches, head aches, couldn’t breath ect., after some ignorant child started bullying her at the start of the year by kicking her desk and chair. She is either bored to death, or picked on any bullied by jealous kids. She called in sick one day, when the 3 boys she was assigned to do a project with, did none of the work. The laugh was on them, when the teacher made them do the project at lunch time the day it was due. They figured she would do it and show up with it done.

At least when she get to High School she can take AP/Honors classes and get away from these bullies.

Some of the Bullies will be surprised she has been taking martial arts for the last 6 weeks, so she will not be going back to school as the bullied. She will also not be charged or expelled for defending herself against these bully’s. I have clearly documented in a 504 plan that she is depressed and suicidal from the constant abuse and bullying she has been subject too. Just, like I have every single doctor’s visit and hospital visit for every headache, stomach ache, can’t breath incident for all the days she hasn’t been able to make it to school because she is so upset.

So yes, my Smart kids, finally in High School get the chance to get seperated from the rift raft in Honors and AP classes. They deserve that much. Public Schools would be much more successfull if they did what the private schools do and seperate the students out by acheivement in classes. C &B are the better Students. A are the legacy’s or the kids with money who everyone knows aren’t as smart. Even, the top Doctor at St. Joe’s Son got kicked out of my daughter’s class in Catholic school, for pulling the chair out from underneath girls among other things. Numerous other rich kids are kicked out of private schools for drugs, bomb threats, all sorts of things. Kids use to be kicked out of public school too. Instead a kid who has been caught with drugs on them at the local middle school over 35 times is allowed to stay, and has not been arrested or anything. The parent laughs when they call them in, the feeling in is the parent has the child dealing for them.


August 2nd, 2012
5:46 am

Kids are not ready because they have not been taught to be ready. They are allowed to focus on other things instead of focusing on school and study. Students who succeed in school are taught from an early age that school is their number one priority– not boys, girls, cars, video games, etc. Poor behavior is NOT excused or tolerated. The mindset today is that kids can’t concentrate because of all these things. That is garbage. Let kids find out early how hard college is. Raise expectations and stop tolerating nonsense like brain based learning. Make all classes harder and let kids try AP early. Weed out the ones who can’t or won’t do it and put them in technical/vocational classes. Stop college remediation classes.

AP Coord

August 2nd, 2012
5:52 am

A simple review of all data released by the College Board would reveal that about 40% of ALL students who take an AP Exam fail, so the fact that 42% of 9th graders “fail” is not dramatically different from the overall “failure” rate. (At my school, our pass-fail rate for 9th graders in Human Geography is about 70-30, so we’re doing a little bit better than the global average.)

I also hesitate to use te word “fail” when it comes to AP Exams. If an AP course has been properly designed and implemented then all students should have a (perhaps unmeasurable) net gain academically (in study skills, critical thinking skills, or simple college preparedness).


August 2nd, 2012
6:35 am

“Here is my question…. do students really have that much advantage taking these classes or are you stressing all parties out (school, parents, students, and teachers).”

A teacher is asking this question??? AP classes are more challenging than the on-level courses most kids take and they are awarded additional points to their overall GPA.

Daughter took two AP classes as a freshman (School would only only freshman to take two AP classes) and scored 5 on both.

Anonymous for this one

August 2nd, 2012
6:35 am

The AP HG training clearly states that AP does not recommend this course for 9th graders.


August 2nd, 2012
7:43 am

I teach both IB and AP courses…to Juniors and Seniors. Students get out of these courses exactly what they put into them and YES, I teach both as college courses. I may not use the harshness and language that a college professor would, and I like to think that I’m a little more supportive and encouraging, but I would never “dumb” down one of these courses because they are “only high schoolers”. Basically, from the beginning I let students know THEY are the ones earning the IB or AP credit and THEY will be doing the work – I present the material and guide them through, but again, it’s all on the student to do the grunt work. All of my IB students have thus far scored high in my area and a majority of my AP students have done well…3’s & 4’s in what is considered to be a difficult exam. I have noticed that socioeconomic or race really has nothing to do with their scores, but that seniors taking AP generally do better on the exam than juniors (all IB students test senior year)…I would be very careful about allowing a sophomore to take my AP course (although I’ve had a FEW – FEW over the years who might have done well)….never a freshman.


August 2nd, 2012
7:46 am

….AND regardless of how these students end up doing on the exam, I believe it is an advantage to take these classes – all of my former students (who may not have recieved college credit for AP or IB classes for various reasons) say that these courses really prepared them for college level work – and in some cases was more demanding in high school due to the class schedule….so yes, AP and IB are worth it if the student takes it seriously.

Ed Johnson

August 2nd, 2012
7:50 am

It used to be “The harder, the better.” Since that failed, we now have the next obvious and capricious solution: “The harder the sooner, the better.”

It’s not hard to imagine a deepening of the current unintended consequences.

It doesn’t have to be this way, as Mary Elizabeth has made clear, at least once.

John Konop

August 2nd, 2012
8:08 am

It all depends on the student. Our kid did fine in AP course as a sophomore getting a 4 in AP stats. And his grades improved as he took classes like AP Physics, AP Calculas…….via it matching his interest and aptitude.The real issue is students being pushed into AP classes and not being ready for the course work no matter the age. We must get back to basics in matching students to their aptitude and stop trying to pound square begs into round holes. If you look at the data I am sure the low scores have more to do with the above than age ie pushing a student not ready and or not having the aptitude for the cource work does more harm than good most times.


August 2nd, 2012
8:13 am

95% of my daughters freshman AP Human class passed their AP exam with a 3 or better. I think the AP coursework depends as much on the teachers as the students. AP coursework and Honors level courses have prepared her well for college this fall. She is also entering college with a full semester of credit as well as enough to put her well on her way in her selected major.

Offering AP courses for the financial gain to a student offer no benefit. Offering AP courses for enrichment of the student reap the rewards.


August 2nd, 2012
8:24 am

“At least when she get to High School she can take AP/Honors classes and get away from these bullies.” Rest assured that that is indeed, the case. The elite students are definitely protected in their little world…and as the parent of one of them, I am unashamedly thankful for this. My daughter came home nearly in tears from her first day of school yesterday. For the first time in years she had to take a non-honors class taught by a disinterested football coach in a classroom full of “rowdy, undisciplined brats” who raised such a ruckus (cursing, racist remarks, and much worse) she couldn’t hear and couldn’t concentrate..Great learning environment…NOT!! Thank God for honors and AP classes for those who need them.

Glad I can afford to send my daughter to pvt school

August 2nd, 2012
8:25 am

Time flys, my 27 year old daughter, tells me that she is coming home next year for her 10 year high school reunion. She was a good student but not brilliant. She took History & English AP as a freshman & made a 5 on history & a 3 on english. Emory would have counted the 5 but not the 3 for both course credit & high school GPA UGA counted both . My daughter was socially active but a big reader. Bottom line it was better for her to read History & English rather than the trash paper backs that teens read.

By the way she took Ap history & english all 4 years but only AP math, art & science as a senior & junior.


August 2nd, 2012
8:31 am

I feel that freshman students may very well be ready to take AP classes.

Duke’s TIP program allows 7th graders to take the SAT. Some of those students score as high as some college freshman. Why would you keep such a student from attempting a more difficult/rigorous class if they have the desire and necessary background to attempt the course?

I think people learn more from failures than successes. Allowing a student to attempt (and possibly fail) a difficult course will probably teach the student more about study habits (or a lack thereof) than passing easy courses.

Loving Life!

August 2nd, 2012
8:46 am

During my time as a science teacher (having taught AP Environmental Science) I found that underclassmen did NOT perform as well as my upperclassmen on the exam. However, there was somewhat of a shock effect with the underclassmen. They realized this is the material they will see in college and by the end of the school year I saw their maturity levels (and grades) improve a great deal. Today many principals are limiting their AP/IB/AICE offerings to the upperclassmen only and when I was an AP in Florida the state rolled out Pre-AP/Pre-IB/Pre-AICE courses (essentially the same courses with stronger support and less workload). My principal required these courses as prerequisites for all full AP/IB/AICE courses. We had DRAMATIC improvements across the board having 9/11 graders take Pre- and then the full in 10/12. Again the shock effect took over, after the Pre-course they understood the requirements and did exceptionally well the following year in the full course. In all honesty, we introduced the pre-courses as a way to offset the shortage of elective instructors in PE, business, technology and especially art and utilize the AP certified instructors more effectively.

So to answer the question “When should high school students take AP classes?” It does depend on the maturity level of the student but I believe sophomore year is a good starting point. Also note that most districts create practice AP/IB/AICE tests and if students they do not score a 4 or 5 district administrators bar them from taking the final exam or require low scoring students to pay for them out-of-pocket.


August 2nd, 2012
8:55 am

Maybe I am wrong but just because most freshmen and sophomores are not ready for AP classes does that mean NO freshmen or sophomores should take them? Do we really want to have schools where “no child can get ahead”? Do we want to make education so cookie cutter that a student that wants to get a scholarship to go to a world class engineering school must get an education no better than what is required for a Technical school? No classes in Calculus or Anatomy or Physics can be taught because some one thinks that no high schooler is “emotionally” prepared for that academic rigor?

Inman Park Boy

August 2nd, 2012
9:00 am

As a former high school principal, all I can say is that “it depends on the child.” Some AP courses, such as AP World History, are actually pitched at the 9th grade student. What I would caution parents about is overtaxing the child. If your student is an athlete (especially in more than one sport) or if they are very “social” children who want to be in several different clubs or organizations, then AP classes, at the 9th/10th level, will probably be an overwhelming challenge. In my opinion AP is highly overrated. I kept my own kids in regular Honors courses and they have all done fine in college, including one who is in college in Europe.


August 2nd, 2012
9:00 am

As many of you do, I only want what is best for my child. Most importantly I want to make sure that he has good study habits and time management skills in his toolkit for college. My son has set a high bar for himself for the type of college he wishes to attend. My job is to ensure that when he goes off to college, he is prepared.

Last year he took a high school class in middle school. I wanted him to have experience with a final based on the entire year that counts for 20% the grade. His previous experience was quarterly finals that were 5% of the grade. the point was to get him ready for High School.

He will start high school on Monday and yes he will take an AP class. He WILL NOT take two AP classes like some of his friends. I said No. I do not believe he is ready to devote 9th grade life to studying all the time for just two classes. Nevertheless, I wanted him to see and experience what is involved in taking an AP course. Colleges expect to AP courses on an applicant’s transcript. They also expect the student to do well in the course. At least on the colleges he is interested in has strongly encouraged him to complete AP Chemistry and AP Calculus.

I am trying to balance his GPA with what is my Number One priority which is for him to be ready for the academic rigors of college. I want him to continue to be able to balance his fun stuff, playing travel soccer, and what he will actually be there for – the continue his education. After all, I won’t be there to make sure that he goes to class. I won’t be there to make sure that he studies. I have four more years to get him to this point.

Many of you have made excellent points about is AP in the 9th grade too soon. In particular, people have focused in the low pass rate for the AP test. I would mention that the course work teaches fine tunes the information that will be on the test as works on the critical thinking skills that are required to actually past the test. The student on his own to obtain most of the subject matter knowledge by reading, note taking and be prepared for the class presentation. The class presentation which will consist of a some lecture. However the class will involve discussion (critical thinking, comparing concepts, and document based questions), projects and learning how to write. These are all necessary to actually pass the test. The students have to move away from memorizing material and regurgitating on test. In other words, learn to do work at the college level. A 9th grade study who learns this lesson early will be a stronger student.



August 2nd, 2012
9:14 am

Loving Life, did ALL of your underclassmen fail to perform to your specifications in your AP classes? No a single one? If one of the underclassmen did perform well then would it be worth it to ban that student in your AP classes due to a blanket policy of “No Freshmen or Sophomores are allowed to take AP classes?” You should know that general recommendations that fit most students suddenly become iron clad rules that can short change students. You do also realize that if a student is short changed in high school they have fewer opportunities to recovery than they did back in the 80’s and 90’s. That happened to me in the early 80’s. I got a high school education sufficient for UGA, not Georgia Tech, but since it was the 80’s I had the opportunity to pay my way through college to get the additional schooling I required. Now students have to go deeper into debt for that additional work and high schools that do this curtail now much needed scholarship opportunities for students.

Perhaps an individual evaluation of the student’s prior work and attitude should be taken in to account whether they are prepared for AP classes.


August 2nd, 2012
9:14 am

@ cris, As a college professor I would like to address your comment about “the harshness and language of a college professor.” I don’t doubt there are college professors who are harsh and don’t mince their words. Unfortunately, we often find that our students are not well educated. Whether that is their fault, the fault of their high school teachers, or a little of both is a question we can’t answer.

I, for one, am supportive and encouraging, meaning I make myself available to students outside of the classroom for tutoring and advisement, and I encourage them to seek extra help or advisement elsewhere if they don’t want to get that from me. Above all, however, they must take the initiative because attending college is voluntary. That may be the biggest adjustment they face.


August 2nd, 2012
9:18 am

When the AP curriculum was originally conceived by the College Board, it was designed to offer college-level coursework for academically gifted juniors and seniors. Over the past ten to fifteen years, College Board has removed many of the requirements.

Individual schools can and do do what they like, but per College Board, there are not supposed to be “gatekeepers” for AP courses — meaning that schools are not supposed to prevent students with low GPAs or poor work habits from taking AP classes. In some cases those students self-select out; in others, they don’t.

While many high school freshman and sophomores are very smart and very capable, very few of them are developmentally ready to handle college work, particularly in the areas of writing and critical thinking. Writing skills take time to develop, and pushing a student to write a college-level document-based question (AP history classes) or critical response (AP English classes) when she or he has been writing five-paragraph essays is like pushing a child from training wheels to a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Sure, the concepts are similar, but the complex skill set needs time to develop fully.

The bottom line is that teachers in AP courses are increasingly teaching to the test. College Board knows that it can make a mint off of students taking these expensive tests and so they push them hard; students in academically competitive schools use them to load their resumes; schools use them to compete with each other (”Oh, X High School offers ten APs? We offer twenty! And they make you wait till you’re a junior? You can take them here as a freshman!”)

Colleges and universities know that the quality of AP coursework has declined. That’s why most selective schools won’t take any AP score below a 4 for college credit. Some colleges, like Bard College in New York, don’t offer any college credit for AP classes.

Dual-enrollment classes for gifted high school students seem to be a much better option and offer a much fuller picture of a student’s academic readiness and skills than a three-hour exam.

– Veteran English Teacher

GT Alumna

August 2nd, 2012
9:27 am

@ Bob
I totally agree. What really frosted me last year (when my son was a Freshman) was that the ONLY AP course available to him was AP Human Geography. The administrators would not allow him to go down the hall and take other AP courses as well, even if he was academically prepared. So… he took AP HG, pocketed his A, and earned a 5 on the exam. All this was accomplished as a 14 year old. In fact, he also took that SAT in June and scored an 2050. Pretty darn good for someone they think needs to be molly-coddled about which courses he can take.

IMHO, forcing highly-capable kids to take only one AP course is ridiculous, especially since that course does NOT count for graduation credits. What a racket. The only reasons my son took the course were to challenge himself and to keep his GPA competitive. Personally, we’re considering allowing him to do dual enrollment at the earliest opportunity… and this would be over the objection of his HS counselor, whom we don’t think highly of to begin with.

I’ve had it will the herd-mentality of the school system. Using their “methodology” they would have prevented Sandra Day O’Connor and MLK Jr. from going to college at 16.


August 2nd, 2012
9:27 am

@redweather…several of the professors in my major had no problem telling me or fellow students our work was “crap” “immature” “derivative” etc…..while this usually has a galvanizing effect on 19-22 year-olds, I have found that it simply destroys high school students who really take it as a personal judgment rather than a judgment of their work. I agree with you that student initiative is the number one factor determining whether they succeed or not, AP or college.


August 2nd, 2012
9:43 am

I was an APS honor student and AP student (English, Spanish, SS) and wonder what my GPA would’ve been if thise modern grade inflation had been the rule back in the day. I made 2 5s and a 4, and earned exemptions and credits at UGA when I started college. Test-taking has always been a strength. While I easily transitioned into English Lit and Humanities courses, my experience in college Spanish has formed my opinion on APs. I was woefully unprepared for Spanish 104, where we were lectured in Spanish and expected to read and respond to classic literature, focusing on Don Quixote, the first novel in Western literature. We hadn’t read any literature in my high school AP class. I was never expected to be fluent in conversational Spanish. It was mainly a focus on vocabulary, grammar, idioms and culture. I never even studied and made easy As.

IMO, the level of instruction for AP is too uneven for these to be given such weight by universities. I loved my high school teacher, but she didn’t teach in a manner even approaching college rigor. I hated my high school AP English teacher (racist, classist and worthless), but luckily had an 11th grade honors teacher (Ivy League grad), who taught me nearly everything I know about literary analysis and close reading. My AP History teacher is one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever encountered. Thirty years later and I still remember bits of his lectures and analyses.

Though I’m a classroom English teacher and not a decision-maker, I’ve championed the idea of early college and dual enrollment to anyone who’d listen. It just makes sense to have real professors teach English 101 or whatever to those students who are ready, rather than push those without prerequisite skills, maturity or work habits into poorly constructed classes that makes millions for a private corporation. AP classes, to me, are an indicator of how confused we’ve become about the mission of high school education. Originally (19th Century), it was created as a bridge to college to ensure success. Grammar schools, ending in 8th grade, were thought to be sufficient for workforce preparation. If we are serving the needs of students, then let high proficient learners move to college campuses at early ages, part-time or full-time.