Why Do We Brag About AP Participation?

If you go to the Verona High School web page, one of the first things you’ll notice is a headline that says, “Verona High School Recognized as #2 High School in New Jersey by College Board.” If you look a little further into it, you’ll see that the College Board rating is based on AP Participation, and VHS, with 47 percennt of students enrolled for AP exams, has the second highest number in the state. 

It’s a very interesting award to be given. First of all, the people awarding it, the College Board, are hardly a neutral judge. They are a business, and the more schools that participate in AP exams, the more money they make. An “AP Participation Award,” is virtually the same as “A Best Customer Award.” 

Also is increased AP participation something to brag about? While there are undoubtedly benefits to the program, research done by Russell T. Warner, a professor of psychology at Utah Valley University, states that “there is, so far, no evidence that increasing the number of AP courses or enrolling all students into AP classes increases overall academic achievement.”

Here is my major concern: let’s say, next year, fewer students decide to take AP exams. There’s nothing wrong with that; people make different decisions. Students next year might make the decision that they want to take different classes, that they want to focus specifically on a few specific APs, that they want to do more extracurriculars. That is a totally fine, mature decision to make.

So, in that scenario, let’s say our “AP Participation Score” the College Board so generously awarded us slips down. That, instead of being #2 in the state, we’re now #5. Or #22. How does the school deal with that problem?

Because it’s very clear that, to them, it would be a problem. If you are bragging about your AP Participation, if that’s the first someone sees when they open your website, if you have a big graphic that says “Verona: #2 in NJ,” then clearly you think that’s something to be proud of. I find it hard to believe that, if AP participation slipped down, the school would simply shrug its shoulders and say, “Well, kudos to the students for making the decision that’s right for them.”

So what would they do? Try to pressure students into taking more AP classes? Try to make it more difficult for students already in AP classes to drop them? 

School policy is already changing in order to make sure the maximum number of students can take AP classes. Don’t believe me? Only a few years ago, freshmen were not allowed to take AP exams. Then they changed that policy so that freshmen could take one AP class (World History). Then that policy changed again, as so to allow freshmen to take multiple AP classes. It is now possible that a freshmen entering the high school will be enrolled in two college-level courses… and the number of people doing that is going up. 

What policy changes are next? Students having to take mandatory AP classes? No limits on the number of AP classes you can take as a freshman or sophomore? If AP participation falls, what actions would the school take to make sure it stays up?

The people we really needing to be congratulating for all this is the College Board. Can you imagine if any other company did what they were doing? Imagine if Apple ranked its customers in a list of who bought the most of their products, and then sent out a special letter naming the top buyers, congratulating them. College Board has made buying their product into a competition, and Verona High School proudly accepted the participation trophy they handed out. 

AP participation in Verona High School is growing faster and faster every year, and by lauding our participation rates, the school has clearly shown that they have no problem with this. However, I think it’s important we take a step back and really consider what this means, and whether being ranked “#2 in AP Participation,” is really something to celebrate.