Beyond Advanced Placement

Prep schools rethink a standard

Adelman also notes that while taking AP in high school is important in predicting who will get a B.A., continuous enrollment in college is a better predictor. "Lots of smart kids take AP," he says, "and decide to drop out after one year." Adelman's stats show that the odds are against these students returning.

From students who take the non-AP supercourses, the reviews are mixed. The classes are definitely better, they say, but studying for the AP exams—which many still want to take—is harder. Jaclyn Kessler, a senior at the Trinity School in New York, is headed for Yale next year. Trinity offered a few AP courses but none in English or history. The European history class she took was more traditional and gave her more "context" for the AP exam than her American history class, which focused on primary sources, and she scored better on the European. On the other hand, she raves about her English electives—a seminar in the complete works of Jane Austen and "Man/Woman," a study of gender relationships in literature and contemporary society. "If I had to take AP English," she says, "I wouldn't have been able to take these, and I much prefer these."

"The AP is so much a part of our [education] culture, it's good to hear someone say, 'We'll do something different,' " says Stanford's Kinnally. Still, he acknowledges, the tests do make evaluations easier, especially when he doesn't know a school well. "I like APs," he says. "The good thing about them is they're standard."

And the downside? "They're standard."

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