The Wall Street Journal Online [via Yahoo! Finance] reports on a new initiative to reward students and teachers for performance on Advanced Placement exams. Students would receive $100-$500 per passing grade and teachers would receive compensation based on their students’ exam grades. The article highlights the achievements of 17-year old Jessica Stark; she made $600 last year for passing six AP exams.
A new initiative, aimed at encouraging careers in math and science, plans to replicate these AP bonuses across the country. Teachers get them, too — at times, $5,000 annually or more — for helping their kids pass AP classes in math, science and English.
We’ve known for years that the United States lags behind other nations in math and science education. “The math and science situation in this country is serious — serious to the point that the U.S. is suffering competitively today and is going to suffer worse competitively in the future if we don’t do something about it,” Exxon Chief Executive Rex Tillerson said in an interview. Exxon has ponied up $125 million toward the $900 million goal for the Initiative. Other power players in both education and business are on board:
The National Math and Science Initiative, announced in early March 2007, is a nonprofit project whose leaders include former high-ranking U.S. Department of Education official Tom Luce, former president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Charles Vest, and College Board head Gaston Caperton. It aims to build on both the Texas AP-incentive effort and a University of Texas program that that encourages college students to become math and science teachers.
The program’s proponents say AP incentives have succeeded at getting more students to pass the tests in Texas, and they expect the broader initiative to encourage more students to go on to careers in math and science.
Critics of the program contend that bribing kids and teachers is harmful and a waste of money; they seem not to realize that financial rewards [or at least the opportunity to reap them] are exactly what you get later on for a job well done. It isn’t bribery, it’s reality.
The Advanced Placement curriculum is designed to give outstanding high school students an opportunity to take college-level classes and earn credits toward future degrees. Many high schools [such as the one I'm spending the most time in currently] encourage students to take the challenging AP courses but don’t require them to take the exam. I explain to AP students whenever I get a chance the value of taking the test – even if getting a 3 is a long shot:
- Saving money on future tuition. Tuition for a 4-credit course at a private university is ~$3,600. The fee for the AP test is $83 [or $53 if you apply for a financial hardship credit]. This means a student needs only a 2.3% chance of getting a 3 on the test to make the gamble financially viable – that’s about 1 in 45. So, no matter how woefully inadequate you’ve judged your skills to be, the test is worth taking. Buy or borrow an AP review book and give it a shot.
- Fast-tracking to higher-level courses. By testing out of introductory courses, students avoid the hassle of 101′s that they’ve already taken. They can engage themselves in more challenging and advanced coursework earlier in their post-secondary careers. As a result, they’ll build relationships sooner with professors who can influence their work over the next few years.
- Making the most of your class selection. You’ve only got ~32 courses in your undergraduate career [8 semesters, 4 classes a semester]. Take the most interesting and challenging stuff you can, not Calculus for the second time.
- Show colleges you can do the work. Guidance counselors love to trumpet AP courses as a way to “look good” to college admissions officers. The reality? Selective colleges want to know that you can do the work, and that means taking a tough class and demonstrating competence at the end of it. The AP test is a standardized certification of the material you’ve learned, not a grade from a teacher that, as I wrote about the other day, can mean anything. Take the test and show the colleges what you know, not just that you showed up for class and did your homework.
- Use your time for something worthwhile. Consider the opportunity cost of not taking an AP exam and instead taking the course over again at the college level. By getting credit for AP exams, you can shave courses – even entire semesters – off your next few years. That’s time you can use for jobs, internships, or additional study to advance your career. Or, if you’d prefer, you can relax and enjoy yourself – there’s no shame in that, you’ll have earned it.
There are many more benefits of taking a rigorous Advanced Placement curriculum, but I’d also like to spend some time on the teachers. The National Math & Science Initiative [which looks to include English exams, too] also plans to reward teachers for, well, doing their jobs properly. Why should a teacher take seriously the job of giving students the AP experience?
- Students deserve it. The kids are supposed to be the real focus of teaching, right? Your students deserve access to the highest-quality education. Yes, Advanced Placement classes are tougher than the regular high school curriculum you’re used to delivering – but you have a Bachelor’s degree and the ability to transmit knowledge about a 101-level course. If you can’t do this, find out how. The College Board offers workshops on AP teaching. The colleges and universities around you can help with professional development. Organizations like the University of Texas’s Uteach [cited in the article above] specifically address the needs of secondary teachers.
- Professional development. Teachers don’t do enough of it and administrators don’t encourage it with enough frequency or zeal. Keeping in touch with the AP curriculum – a great linking device between K-12 curriculum and its relevance to college – will help align your teaching with the positive curricular changes beyond your classroom. At the least, it’ll keep you in the know.
- Accountability. I know I’ll take heat for this, but the main reason teachers don’t encourage their students to take AP tests is because those results make the teacher accountable. It’s true. A good teacher who is well-prepared and confident in their abilities wants their students to take the test. If you aren’t comfortable with your students being tested, put yourself in a position – via professional development, peer/mentor help, anything – not to have to worry about their results. You’ll have solid numbers to show administrators, peers and parents that prove your value in the classroom.
- Performance bonuses. The trend to reward teachers for excellent student performance is growing. If your school doesn’t already recognize outstanding teachers with financial bonuses, bring it up to the administration, the Board of Education, or contact a private foundation and have them approach your school. Doing your job well and focusing on the students may not do it for you; if that’s the case, you can be driven by the almighty dollar until you can get yourself out of teaching.
Put succinctly, if you’re a student, take the test. If you’re a teacher, encourage all students to take the test. The benefits to both parties are enormous.
*** If you’re interested in scheduling a presentation to your district or students about the value of Advanced Placement exams, e-mail email@example.com [e-mail link opens in new window] with “AP Exams” in the subject.
2 Responses to “Students and Teachers Get Money for AP Exam Success; The Benefits of Advanced Placement”
- Are Advanced Placement / AP Courses Important in College Admissions? — Education for the Aughts - American School Issues and Analysis - [...] should take as many AP classes as he can handle in such a way that he masters the curriculum. ...