High School Courses May Be Lacking in Rigor

May 10, 2011

Reports show that high school students are taking more advanced courses, but some fear the course content is not as challenging as the name suggests. Could this hurt students as they start their college studies?

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By Jessica Lyons

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How Difficult Are Advanced Classes?

According to the National Center for Education Statistic's 2009 High School Transcript Study, which was released in April 2011, the amount of students taking high level courses has increased since the study began in 1990. In fact, the data showed that 13% of students sampled were taking 'rigorous' courses as of 2009. Although many educators would be happy to hear that more students are taking harder classes, it might not be a good thing.

A 2009 study from the Thomas Fordham Institute, Growing Pains in the Advanced Placement Program: Do Tough Trade-Offs Lie Ahead?, questioned if AP courses are being 'dumbed-down.' While talking to a sampling of AP teachers around the country, the study found that 75% felt their schools were expanding their AP programs as a way to improve ranking and reputation. Additionally, 56% thought 'too many students overestimate their ability and are in over their head.'

classroom AP advanced placement high school college prep

According to 13% of teachers, the material in their AP classes has become less complex. When teachers have advanced classes that not all enrolled students can handle, they may have trouble presenting material at the pace they want. They could have to move slower to accommodate underprepared students, thus lessening the challenge for others. Teachers might also have to devote more class time to working with students who can't as easily grasp the material, again hurting the more advanced students.

What Does It Mean for College Students?

At the end of the day, taking high school courses that don't teach what they promise could be hurting students heading to college. As these students enter their first year of college, they might find themselves lacking some knowledge. This means they'll be at a disadvantage as courses begin and will have to catch up to their classmates. Starting college can already be a stressful situation for new students. Not being properly prepared for college courses adds even more pressure.

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