The Fort Lee High School AP program is in disarray.
As most people know, AP is short for “Advanced Placement.” The AP program was specifically designed to enhance the education of gifted students in a high school, to give them opportunities to excel. The standards to enter AP programs have always been very high in order to insure the program’s integrity. In order to enter the program, students had to have performed in a stellar fashion in prior years, generally in honors courses, and had to have been recommended by their teachers.
But a few years ago, these prerequisites were trashed in favor of a more open enrollment into AP courses. Let’s investigate how this occurred and why this decision needs to be revisited.
There is no community member who is a stronger advocate of parent involvement than I. If a student is having problems in a classroom (behavioral or academic), a parent should schedule a meeting with the teacher to see what can be done to remedy the situation. If a parent believes that a teacher has mistreated a student, it is the parent’s responsibility and even obligation to report the incident to the principal and/or the superintendent’s office. If a parent believes that a child is not performing well and the teacher is at fault because of questionable methods of teaching, it is within the realm of reason for a parent to question a teaching method, through the use of a meeting with the teacher, the principal or a guidance counselor. Finally, if there is even a suspicion of a child being bullied, it should be immediately reported to the teacher, the guidance department and/or the principal.
But when it comes to judging a child’s participation in an honors program or an AP course, the line has to be drawn. Parents often lack objectivity or, even worse, place unrealistic expectations on a child. For years, one local parent, a teacher herself in another town, was continuously complaining that her child was never given the right academic opportunities. Yet, it was obvious to all who knew this child that he was doing the best that his ability would allow. Another parent filed a complaint with a guidance counselor in order to get her child into an honors program. She accomplished her goal, only to be rewarded with her child dropping out of the class after one month because he couldn’t “cut it.”
So a few years ago, after a stream of complaints from disconsolate parents that their children were not given a “fair academic evaluation”, the Board of Education caved and made a poor decision. They agreed to allow parents to “opt” their child into the program, even if the child’s teachers failed to recommend for the AP program. It would be easy to crucify the BOE for this, but as the BOE members are constantly “under the gun” for every decision they make, and they are desperately trying to garner the support of the community, they sometimes make poor choices. Sometimes they cede too much, without considering all the ramifications.This was one of those unfortunate cases.
So what are the results of this entrance into the road to academic chaos? AP scores have dropped dramatically at Fort Lee High School, one contributing factor to the lowering of our New Jersey State ranking. Other aggravating factors are children being placed in AP classes, transferring out after the beginning of the school year, and creating scheduling problems. Finally, teachers may have had to alter their teaching methods in order to cater to these supplemental students to keep them from falling behind in their studies. This allows for the possibility that the academic standards of the AP program may have been compromised.
At the BOE meeting on Monday evening, Asst. Superintendent Dr. Sharon Amato took a strong, admirable position on this topic. She stated two very important facts: (1) when a number of students who are academically incapable of success in an AP program decide to “opt out” mid-semester, finding space in standard classes is complex and problematic, as many of these classes are “maxed” out with 30 or 31 students already; and (2) the AP acceptance process should have a “criteria-based” admission system or, at the very least, a pre-test before acceptance. She was right on target with both of these observations.
All the facts point to the same conclusion. It is critical for the 2013-2014 Academic Year at Fort Lee High School that the BOE institute a new process of acceptance to the AP programs as follows:
(1) No parent may unilaterally decide to place a child into the AP program without the express approval of the Fort Lee High School staff, i.e. principal; teachers; guidance dept.
(2) Standards and criteria are developed to screen students academically to evaluate the potential to excel in an AP class.
(3) A pretest should be investigated for those borderline students whose parents adamantly believe that they have not been given a fair opportunity for acceptance to an AP course.
It is now time to “right the course” for Fort Lee High School and return our school system to the high standards that our community has the right to demand and expect. Restoring our AP prerequisites to the appropriately high level will be a fine start.