kitchen table math, the sequel: Core Knowledge: Voluntary National Standards Dead on Arrival

Monday, August 3, 2009

Core Knowledge: Voluntary National Standards Dead on Arrival

I've just gotten the Core Knowledge post re: the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers standards from Robert Pondiscio:
Written By: Robert Pondiscio Blogger
Categorized in: Education

A draft of the newly developed common core state standards purports to offer “sufficient guidance and clarity so that they are teachable, learnable and measurable,” however the ELA guidelines offer almost no specific content and little that would be of use to teachers in planning lessons–or parents in understanding what their child is expected to know.

Copies of the draft, an effort spearheaded by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA) have begun circulating among reviewers. A copy found its way to me without any restrictions on its use or circulation. I have posted the draft document here.

The draft insists that the voluntary standards be “coherent” but defines coherence to mean they “should convey a unified vision of the big ideas and supporting concepts within a discipline and reflect a progression of learning that is meaningful and appropriate.” Framed as a series of benchmarks students must reach “to be college and career ready,” the draft enumerates standards such as the ability to “determine what text says explicitly and use evidence within text to infer what is implied by or follows logically from the text.”

To put this as blandly as possible, this is neither a revelatory insight nor a meaningful standard. Educators hoping for guidance on what particular texts are expected to be taught, or how to get students to reach the bland and obvious standards will be disappointed. On specific “texts” the draft says merely:

The literary and informational texts chosen should be rich in content….This includes texts that have broad resonance and are referred to and quoted often, such as influential political documents, foundational literary works, and seminal historical and scientific texts.

“At first glance, these language standards are, despite the brave descriptors, very similar to the dysfunctional state standards already in place,” notes Core Knowledge founder E.D. Hirsch, Jr. “Like most state standards, they naively take a formalistic approach to language ability. They assume that the ability to understand literary and informational language is chiefly a how–to skill, whereas it is chiefly a topic-dependent skill that varies with specific topic familiarity.”

A sample scientific text on covalent bonds in the draft document, Hirsch notes, is a “a good illustration of this general point. Will it be more useful for understanding such texts to spend class time teaching some will-o-the-wisp language proficiency or to impart a good general education in science and the humanities?

“One begins to despair,” Hirsch concludes.

Speaking as a parent who has had to enroll her son in a Jesuit high school to provide him a liberal education, I do not want to hear that E.D. Hirsch is beginning to despair.

Disciplinary specialists, of whom E.D. Hirsch is one, need to be writing these standards.


VickyS said...

Hirsh's comment on the science passage interests me.

I recently had my 8th grade son take the PLAN test (at home). It wasn't easy for him but he got through the math, composition and reading tests all right. When it came to the science test, it was quite apparent that the topics aligned with a comprehensive physical science class which he has not had yet. All of the info needed to answer the questions were in the passages, and yes, to answer them correctly he needed to understand the explicit text and draw inferences or predict what would follow logically, just like the standards draft prescribes.

However, even though he is an excellent reader, it's not just about reading. It's about the science. And without a context for those questions, without being familiar with the overall subject matter, he just couldn't do it. Even though the answers were right there if he looked hard enough.

Content. Can't go far without it.

SteveH said...

Vicky, How do you like the PLAN test? (I'm from the SAT world) How did you convince your son to take the test? My son's going into 8th grade and I'm trying to figure out how get him started taking the SAT (or ACT) tests. He works very hard on his school work and I don't think he will like the idea that it's not enough.

VickyS said...

Steve, being from the Midwest where ACT is king, we have experimented with both series: Explore/PLAN/ACT, and PSAT/SAT.

The only one I really don't like is PLAN and I would not administer that again. It seems too geared to a specific 9th/10th grade curriculum which your son may or may not have had. I liked the ACT though--good science, and better math than the SAT, from what I could tell. Broadly speaking, the SAT seemed more ability oriented and the ACT more achievement oriented.

The ACT, SAT and EXPLORE test (the latter for younger kids) seemed to be the most useful out of level tests, and these are the ones you can take through the talent search programs (more on that below).

My older son doesn't mind taking these tests, but my younger one is not so keen. I made the younger one take EXPLORE (through talent search, see below) and I administered PLAN at home (you can buy last year's copy directly from the ACT website).

My older son (who will be a junior this year) has taken the ACT twice and the SAT once already. I think it's just good for them to get practice sitting still for 4 hours, that's half the battle!

Kids grade 9 or younger can sign up for these tests through Northwestern or Johns Hopkins talent search. I think Susan has talked about these before. They adminster EXPLORE (an 8th grade test) to grades 3-6, SAT to grades 6-8, and ACT to grades 6-9. You can just nominate and register your kid yourself; you don't need the school to "nominate" him or anything. They'll take your money! The one thing I would recommend though is don't give your kid a test you know will freak him out or be too too tough for him. But mine have held up well against the statistical competition and we do absolutely no prep.

Your son is still young enough to qualify for talent search; maybe that can be used to interest him. If he were to do really well there are recognition ceremonies and possible scholarships. Might be enough to sweeten the pot for him.

That brings up another reason I have for giving my kids these tests early. I know I will not be able to get them to prep one minute. That's just the kind of kids they are. So I view taking the test as good prep for the next one! Cheaper, too, if you look at it that way.

It's also important to know that when you son reaches grade 9 or 10, you can just sign him up to take the SAT or ACT directly, on their website. I did not go through our school. Just went online, signed him up, shipped him over there and that was that.

SteveH said...

Thank you Vicky. Susan has also given me advice about her testing experience. I appreciate it all.

My son took the SCAT test for the Johns Hopkins talent search in fifth grade (his school never told him that he qualified for the test - on purpose!) and got to go to an awards ceremony, but we never did anything with them. It was expensive and the only good time to do it was in the summer. He doesn't mind working on things in the summer, but he is not too keen on intensive courses. During the school year, his time is eaten up by too many other things.

In fact, I've seen very clearly the lost opportunities for learning due to silly school work. The worst are the dioramas and art projects. They are huge time wasters. my son wants to be a good student and he takes these projects seriously. In sixth grade, one of his teachers was astonished at how much time he put into some art/science homework. She suggested a much smaller amount of time. I asked her whether he would get the same grade. She never answered.

Actually, that's an interesting point about our nonlinear 1-5 rubric scale, where a '5' is like an A+ or something beyond, depending on the teacher. They can give decent grades to the lowest ability kids (3's), but use the top end to drive the better kids to work harder. It drives them nuts. They want a top grade, but it's like the carrot dangling out in front of their noses. They do a lot more work, but it's not the best use of their time.

My son knows about the SAT and ACT, but I have to convince him that his hard work and good grades in school are not enough. Perhaps I can talk about the Academic Index number that many colleges use as a mathematical example of a merit fuction. We can look at the weightings given to class rank versus SAT grades. Then I can give him a practice SAT test at home. He will then have a real correlation between what he is learning and what colleges want.

SteveH said...

" can just sign him up to take the SAT or ACT directly, on their website. I did not go through our school."

Is there an advantage to this?

Anonymous said...

I signed up my son through the college board website the first time because I wanted the scores to only come to me. I could be wrong, but I think when you sign up through the school, the scores also go to them.

But, that may have changed or they are different for middle schoolers.

I was worried about prepping for long periods of time since he was unsure about all of it. I didn't want to turn him off right away.

I kept his practices with his prep books around 15 min. a shot on the weekends, so he wouldn't get too fatigued.

But, I did make a mistake. I had never had him practice one whole test timed. He seemed to be finishing the mini sessions rather quickly. I did discuss with him that he had to guess if he didn't finish since the ACT doesn't penalize if you guess. I think I mentioned something about checking the clock the last minute or two.

Well, he ended up guessing 10-15 at the end of every test except for math, where he still had to guess three or four. So, I blew that.

When he took the talent search ACT in spring, we prepped less, but we talked more about time. He still didn't finish a couple, but only two or three, and he finished all of the math.

The Northwestern people also told me that the average 7th grade math score for the ACT was a 17. The average reading was 19. I'm guessing the 8th grade average is just a little higher.

She told me the averages of the SAT, but like Vicki, I'm here in the midwest. Remember, these are average scores for talent search kids, not the general population. That helped as far as giving my son a goal to shoot for.

I also wanted to avoid the writing test which you can do with the ACT. The ACT writing test is very formulaic . The prep books do a good job of showing you all levels and how they grade them. I have no doubt that when my son has to finally take the writing test it is going to drag his total score down, so I opted to skip it.


Catherine Johnson said...

btw, the Core Knowledge blog is down because it was hacked. I think they had some pornography showing up -

SteveH said...

" but I think when you sign up through the school, the scores also go to them."

When I was growing up, my high school/guidance department didn't give me the time of day. Are they different nowadays? Are there things I need to watch out for? Do they have an agenda?

Allison said...

I don't know about your son's high school but many high schools' guidance departments have the agenda of "get someone in everywhere" and "keep our profile high by gatekeeping who applies where."

Colleges track the high schools, looking to see how the kids from a given school have done. If the kids have done well, then the colleges are more likely to let in future students from that school.

Colleges also ask for comparisons in their letters of recommendation to other students from that school.

This encourages guidance counselors to discourage applications from the students they don't see as slam dunks in likeliness to do well if they go there.

It also encourages the counselors to make sure they've got a track record at every school. They'd much rather say "we sent kids to A, B, C, D, E, F, G, ....
than "we sent kids to A and B", even if A and B are the best choice for most kids. For example, need someone to get accepted at Oberlin, and your son would, therefore, we'll push him to go there, even though he wants to go to, say, Northwestern, since we have 3 others who could get in there.

VickyS said...

Like Susan we chose the ACT first because you can opt out of the writing test, which I thought would've been too much for my son as a 9th grader. Plus, Northwestern lets 9th graders take the ACT but not the SAT through the talent search (you can only take the SAT as late as 8th grade for some reason).

We should be clear what we mean about the talent search program. While both Johns Hopkins and Northwestern do offer classes (on site and online) what I am talking about is the testing program only. At Northwestern, this goes by the name of the Northwestern University Midwest Academic Talent Search (NUMATS). You take the test in your home town at a local testing center. It's not that expensive (around $70) and they give you not only the official test results but a plan for acceleration that you can take to you school if you wish. Also, even thought it's named "Midwest" I think it's available in all states...worth checking anyway.

So Steve, it's really not any "work" for your son except to the extent you want him to do test prep, it's just giving up a Saturday morning to sit for a test.

When my son got "too old" for that program, I started registering him directly through the College Board or ACT. I don't know if there is any advantage to doing this ourselves but I would not have even known how to approach this with his high school so why not do it ourselves? We could choose a nearby test center, etc.

I didn't have my son do a timed practice test at home either, and maybe I should have, but that's one of the reasons I had them tested early, so they could see for themselves this was the real deal. The length and intensity of these tests is a real wake up call for kids and that's why I wanted him to take the a couple of times before his junior or senior year.

After not being responsible for much in the way of sustained concentration in school for so many years, these tests are brutal.

Anonymous said...

After not being responsible for much in the way of sustained concentration in school for so many years, these tests are brutal.

Exactly! It was a good wake-up call on many fronts.

My son realized that the tests really didn't care about the many collages and projects he had lamely produced over the years, and that they wouldn't help him one iota.

They didn't care if he drew a big picture, wrote out an elaborate equation, or just put the answer down. Years of participation in class and group work would not be helping him here, either.

It was actually quite freeing for him. He keeps pestering me to sign him up again so that he can beat his scores.


SteveH said...

"It was actually quite freeing for him. He keeps pestering me to sign him up again so that he can beat his scores."

Thanks Vicky and Susan. I have to figure out how to get the ball rolling. His mindset right now is to be a really good (school) student and get good grades. By the way, has a focus on these tests shown up in a changed attitude about effort in school?

SteveH said...

"Colleges also ask for comparisons in their letters of recommendation to other students from that school. This encourages guidance counselors to discourage applications from the students they don't see as slam dunks in likeliness to do well if they go there."

This is interesting. I'd like to hear any stories about issues with high school guidance programs.

Our high school is an American School Counselor Association member and the school's web site says that "A structured, comprehensive classroom program is provided by grade level. They don't say what this means. The school also has a 20 minute per day "advisory" class. I have no idea what they do here.

Anyone have any comments about what to watch out for?

Cranberry said...

Allison, thank you for your comment about gatekeeping by high school counselors. As my children approach college, I'm getting more concerned about it, especially as few parents dare to discuss it.

I see it in our local high school, however I'll admit that I'm not impressed by their list of college acceptances. That is, if they're practicing gatekeeping, they aren't improving the students' chances. They aren't bad schools, on the whole, but I think for most students, their family background and test scores would get them in easily. I suspect there's a fair amount of lowballing going on, and persuading students to apply below their potential.

Our town is very affluent, and most students come from stable, upper-class households. To see ~3% of our students attending the big name, elite colleges, to me, signals a problem.

VickyS said...

His mindset right now is to be a really good (school) student and get good grades.

That's great! But there's nothing mutually exclusive about getting good grades and taking these tests. In fact, I would think an academically competitive kid would like the idea of testing. I didn't ask, I just signed my guys up. Like after-schooling, it's just "what we do." Maybe you remember my side benefit when I did this the first time with my older son--we found out he had a vision issue that prevented him from reading quickly enough. He's an avid reader and we had no idea. The tests have been invaluable on many levels.

Has a focus on these tests shown up in a changed attitude about effort in school?

Yes, to some extent. He got good SAT scores (as a 10th grader) but he went online and found out that they weren't quite good enough to get him into some of the colleges he'd like to attend. He had thought he wouldn't have to take the SAT again--well, welcome to the real world! And he didn't do very well on the first and only AP test he has taken because he didn't study. He thought just doing the class work would be enough. So this has him thinking, at least.

We have the problem in my household of the underchallenged student. Until they landed at a challenging high school, everything was too easy. I do think testing is helping them change their mindsets about the effort needed in school but it's gradual.

Anonymous said...

My son is not a great student, so the tests helped him to refocus. His tendency is to do well in harder classes, but let the easier ones slide. The test helped him to see what was coming down the road.

If you have a good student, or one that really cares about his/her grades and is somewhat self-disciplined, I think that is half the battle. I have friends with kids like that and they often report having to tell their kid to relax more.

My son cares until he has to do a certain amount of work in an area that he thinks he isn't very good, or that he's deemed "stupid," which is everything but math and science.

"We have the problem in my household of the underchallenged student. Until they landed at a challenging high school, everything was too easy. I do think testing is helping them change their mindsets about the effort needed in school but it's gradual."

This is exactly my experience.

We also don't attend a top prep school with a large amount of academically competitive kids. There only appears to be a small number of kids in his class that take this stuff seriously.

People who do seem to viewed by most other parents as "pushy." It helped for my son to see that other schools could look quite different with different expectations than the one he attended.


Anonymous said...

My experience with guidance counselors is to expect nothing; then you won't be disappointed. All of the ones at my kids' schools were much more interested in social/emotional issues than academics. They also were much less than informed about academics. Incoming freshmen were told never to take more than two honors/AP classes per semester; in a school where at least the top 10%took all academic classes at honors/AP level and a B average without honors courses fell into the bottom half of the class. Counselors were also poorly informed on SAT II issues and completely unaware of other useful tests. The JETS test (which we discovered through our own research) meant that one of our kids heard from hundreds of good engineering programs, starting at the beginning of his junior year. We also discovered that competitive colleges wanted recommendations from subject teachers, preferably at the AP level. Some did not even ask for guidance recommendations.

SteveH said...

"...were much more interested in social/emotional issues than academics."

As long as they don't push it (character education) on those who don't want it or try to get in-between students and their parents. (Catherine alluded to this in another post. I would like to hear anecdotes.) Our high school (my son will be there after next year) is an American School Counselor Association member and they seem to be carving out turf in the social/emotional issues area to justify their existence. They don't seem to be worried about the top students who will easily get into some college. I could be wrong. I would love to have more parent knowledge transfer.

I have heard here (KTM) that counselors push freshmen into lower expectation classes. I don't know if that is just being conservative or if something else is going on.

"Counselors were also poorly informed on SAT II issues ..."

Can you get me going in the right direction about SAT II. How important is it?

"The JETS test ..."

I've never heard of this and I'm an engineer. Can you point me to a good link? Speaking of engineering, most focus on the Ivy League colleges, but if you are interested in engineering, you really need to look at places like Purdue or the importance of individual departments and professors.

"We also discovered that competitive colleges wanted recommendations from subject teachers.."

How many recommendations are usually required? Do the applications say who should provide the recommendations? Do high schools control the recommendation process or does a lot depend on individual teachers? I have a lot to learn.

Also, my goal is to make as few mistakes along the way as possible. What are some of the things that parents would do differently if their kids were just entering high school again? It seems to me that there must be course availablity and scheduling issues that can have great consequences. Are there some things that are first-come, first-serve, and nobody tells you about them?

I need to find a parent mentor in my town. I know that things can be quite different in my town, but I would like to get some sort of feel for the questions I should ask.

Anonymous said...

Hi all,

This is off topic, but, my oldest is starting middle school this year (sixth grade), and I feel like I know nothing. I don't even have any idea of the questions to ask.

If anyone would share advice, been there done that, let me know what to watch out for, I would greatly appreciate it.

For what it is worth, we live in a rural area, majority of students have Spanish as their first language, majority of kids are eligible to recieve free lunch. Our family is not low income, we are English speaking, and we are college educated. Apparently, this kicks our child out of a lot of services.


Anonymous said...

Lets look at a few more AP course equivalencies. Do the State Universities offer any of these?

AP Computer Science A: Course equivalent - CGS1075 or CGS2075 (same course, the first digit does not matter. Can be a 1 or a 2)

UCF, UF, Valencia CC, USF, FSU ALL do NOT offer this course! I looked on their courses for Fall 2009! Your child can receive the credit from his college only if the college offers the course!

Lets look at another example:

Here's a popular one around the Orlando area. AP Human Geography: Course equivalent - GEO2400 : GEO1400 or GEO1420 : GEO2420 (Again, the 1 or 2 as the first digit does not matter)

USF, Not offered
UF, has GEO2420
FSU, Not offered
Valencia CC, Not offered
UCF, Not offered

With the AP Human Geography course, if your student plans on attending UF, he can receive the college credit for that test. If he chooses to go to FSU, USF or UCF, he will NOT receive the credit.

Let's do one more:

Here's more. Incredible.

The high school gets a ton of money for this although now the state is taking a big cut of it.

No one really cares about your kids. Except maybe the occasional classroom teacher. Of course the guidance counselor cares about how your kid "feels".

AP Psychology: Course equivalent PSY1012 or PSY2012

This is the main psychology course in the state university system! ALL state schools offer this course!

You can see that not all AP classes are going to help your student providing he passes the AP test with a 3 or better.

Anonymous said...


I just noticed that club in our high school book. I believe it's the same thing Anon is talking about. Here's the blurb...

"WYSE (formerly JETS) Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering

Participate in challenging competition against other high schools in areas of mathematics, English, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, computer fundamentals and engineering graphics. Local, regional, and state competitions usually occur. A tea of fourteen students and a maximum number of 14 students ”at large” participate in the competition."

Anon, they mention "qualifying exams" to be able to take part in this. Can you tell us what those might be?

This, to me, is another place where gatekeeping goes on. Not maliciously, but parents can miss something that might be great for their kid when a teacher doesn't think of them right away.


Anonymous said...

I intended to post this first about To AP or not to AP.


Chances are good that you have read or heard about the virtues of AP classes. AP, or Advanced Placement, might get your child college credit. Most likely, it won't. MOST of the students who take AP classes do not pass the AP test, so no college credit. Here's how it works:

Your child signs up for the school-year-long AP class, let's say AP English Language. Your child will have a LOT of work in this class. OK that's not bad, right? No problem. Your child gets an "A" in the class. Wait! That's not the end. He still has to take the AP test at the end of the school year. Passing the test with a score of 3, 4 or 5 will give college credit. Here in Florida, if he gets a 3, he will get credit for Freshman Composition 1, ENC1101. Great! In two college semesters he received the credit for ONE college class. Let's say he gets a 4 or 5. He will then get the college credit for ENC1101 and ENC1102 (Freshman Comp 2). So, in other words, in two college semesters he gets credit for two college classes. OK, Dual Enrollment can do that. And he would not have to pass ONE test to get the credit! Lets say your child takes AP English Language and does NOT get a 3, 4 or 5 on the AP test. Maybe your daughter woke up with cramps that day, or she is under the weather in some other way. Too bad, the test is the test. If your child takes the AP class and does NOT get a 3 or higher on the test, she does NOT get college credit. That's how it works.

Next scenario. She gets the credit for ENC1101 by taking AP English Language and getting a 3 on the AP test. Great! She could have done that in half the time, but no matter. The following year she is encouraged to take AP English Literature. She takes the course and again gets a 3 on the AP test. She then receives the credit for ENC1101. Wait! She already HAS that from her AP class last year. Oh well. No on told her, or YOU, the parent, that is the way it works. Now this is for Florida public colleges so I can't vouch for any other state or for any private colleges here in Florida.

Now lets say your child takes the Geography AP class. She receives a 3 on the test. Well, she gets a college class but some of the colleges do not offer it! In other words, she CAN get the credit for the class, but only if her college offers it!

All of the Floridians are now saying, "what about UF (University of Florida)?" UF likes to bill itself as the exclusive state university here in Florida. Well, in Florida, a state university can NO LONGER weigh AP classes higher than a Dual Enrollment class when considering applicants! Now, Dual Enrollment is given the same weight as AP classes both on high school transcripts and for consideration when applying to a university!

Did I mention that the tuition for Dual Enrollment is FREE here in Florida? In the above scenario the student took AP English Language and AP English Literature which would take the same amount of time as 4 college semesters and received ENC1101 for her effort!

Please feel free to e-mail or call, the number is on my school website, for any clarification!
Posted by Karen at 9:01 PM
Labels: AP classes, dual enrollment, florida

orangejer said...


You can obtain AP exam scores by state at as well as other reports at

An additional benefit of dual/concurrent enrollment programs is multiple assessment of students' skills over time allowing for a truer reflection of learning versus performance on a single exam.

NACEP ( has national standards for dual/concurrent enrollment to help colleges/universities and states build strong programs.

Jerry Edmonds
Director, Syracuse University Project Advance
NACEP Past-Presiden

Anonymous said...

Here's more. Incredible.

The high school gets a ton of money for this although now the state is taking a big cut of it.

No one really cares about your kids. Except maybe the occasional classroom teacher. Of course the guidance counselor cares about how your kid "feels".

Anonymous said...

Hi Jane!

Boy, you're in the right place here at KTM. Many of us have just finished up middle school. I imagine if you do some searches here, you'll pull up some interesting and informative stuff.

It sounds like you're going to have to advocate and find sympathetic teachers and administrators, as well as parents.

I also live in a town with a lot of immigrants who often don't speak much English. It can be hard for them to figure out what is going on, let alone know how to advocate.


Tex said...

Actually, that's an interesting point about our nonlinear 1-5 rubric scale, where a '5' is like an A+ or something beyond, depending on the teacher. They can give decent grades to the lowest ability kids (3's), but use the top end to drive the better kids to work harder. It drives them nuts. They want a top grade, but it's like the carrot dangling out in front of their noses. They do a lot more work, but it's not the best use of their time.

Unfortunately, your comment fits right into my 12th grader’s attitude about why he doesn’t work harder in order to get higher grades. He’s always arguing that he doesn’t see how the huge incremental amount of work needed to get an A+ instead of an A- is the best use of his time. Well, now we’re definitely seeing how a higher GPA would certainly help him in the college admissions process. Not that he worries about it too much; it seems to bother me much more. That may be because a higher GPA would certainly enhance his chances for merit scholarships. sigh

Tex said...

My 2 cents -

SAT subject tests:
Most highly selective colleges require two, and some require three. Some specifically require at least one math and/or science test. Other colleges that don’t require them will frequently use them in considering the applicant. Bottom line is it’s good to take a few.

Guidance counselors:
I think the quality of the service they provide is all over the place, and many GCs are of minimal help in the college admissions process. We happen to have a great GC at our smallish public school. The thing I’ve kept in mind is that the GC will be writing recommendation letters and will be an important link with the college admissions personnel, so it’s important that she know the student and that the student’s relationship with her is top notch.

Teacher recommendations:
Usually at least two are required. Some schools specifically ask for a math or science teacher. Our GC coordinates all this in a very helpful manner. Towards the end of their junior year, she has forms for students to distribute to teachers that are then returned to the GC. This way, the GC gets a good idea which teachers the students should ask for recommendations.

Tex said...

Oh, I forgot to add something about SAT subject tests. Most colleges will waive the SAT subject tests requirements if the student submits the ACT w/writing instead of the SAT reasoning test.

Anonymous said...

Tex, you are lucky. My experience that the whole issue of what courses to take,honors/AP level?, in what sequence, pre- and corequisites etc. needs to be checked out by the kid/parents - preferably before high school. It was also up to the kid/parent to research possible colleges and majors and run the whole application process. I would advise all kids to make themselves known to potential recommending teachers, early in the year. Ask if the teacher would be comfortable writing a good rec; if not a strong answer, ask someone else. Also, any requests for recommendations should include a stamped, addressed envelope(s), any specifics required/recommended by the college, the date due and a summary sheet of the kid's contact information, courses taken, GPA,grades, class rank (or copy of transcript), SAT/ACT/AP test scores, major extracurriculars, awards, interests, department/major choice for college etc. Keep copies of everything and make copies to take to campus visits, also. Allow plenty of time before the deadline!!! Plan to follow up on everything - keep a notebook/flowsheet with all materials, dates,recommendations copy of application etc. for each school, with appropriate check-off boxes.

Do your own research on colleges and majors. If the school library doesn't have good sources for college rankings by major, check out good bookstores. Look at public schools with private-school attributes; Public Ivies used to be good; I don't know if it's been updated. Some state schools have very good honors programs, with scholarships even for non-residents. The University of South Carolina is one, with upper-division courses as well as freshman-sophomore. The classes are very small, there are no TAs and there is special housing. The last I heard, admission needed at least a 1400 SAT.

Plan to take the SAT II tests in the spring, at the end of the appropriate course, while the material is still fresh. Don't wait until fall.

To answer a question about the JETS test, it is a standardized test which in my son's was given at a local community college. I don't know if there were two tests or the same test was scored differently for freshmen/sophomores vs juniors/seniors. My son took it in the spring of his sophomore and junior years.

For good writers, the SAT II can be a plus across the board, since good writing is always helpful.

Don't hesitate to look at college courses in the area, especially if some HS department/teacher seems a bit weak. Minnesota's PSEO program is great; college courses during high school, paid for by the local school district.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Tex and Anon,

That actually helps quite a bit.

I actually just recently picked up the book, Fiske Countdown to College, 41 To-do Lists. It's quite good and gets into a lot of what you all are saying.


Allison said...

re: common university requirements, SAT II, recommendations, etc., here is a fantastic starting poing:

This is the Common Application for undergrad admission at hundreds of universities and colleges, including Yale, Harvard, RPI, Carnegie Mellon, Smith, Skidmore, Oberlin. You can find out everything about it at the above web site.

SteveH said...

"...common university requirements, SAT II..."

Thanks Allison, and I also found online applications for colleges not on that list. There's nothing like starting from the actual requirements (application) and working backwards.

"Fiske Countdown to College" - Thank you Susan. I noticed that there are a lot of "countdown" books. It should give me a good framework.

I will also look for a parent (mentor) to give all of the local details about our high school, especially if there are any good guidance counselors.

As for AP classes, I guess I never had the expectation that they would actually provide advanced placement, but someone did raise the issue of dual enrollment. I've been trying to find out the policy about that in our state, but it's quite unclear. It might be better to get real college credit rather than pretend (AP) college credit, but I don't think it would work for those classes.

One way I've tried to work backwards is to look at the "Academic Index" used by some schools. It is a number based on both your SAT (or ACT) scores and your class rank. The "number" you get for class rank is modified by the size of the school. The bigger the school, the better the number for the same class rank. I don't know if they have additional fudge factors based on any information they have about a school.

I thought it was interesting that it was not directly based on GPA. You can look at tables for each senior class size and see that the number is non-linear. You can also compare how they weight class ranking with SAT scores and get a feel for whether it's better to spend time improving your SAT score or your GPA.

I noticed that if you are outside of the top 20 in class ranking for your school, it's better to focus on an improved SAT rather than improving the third digit of your GPA. It isn't going to change your class rank number for the Academic Index, unless you are right near a cutoff. Once you get into the top 20 (or so), then each position change in ranking makes a difference, perhaps equivalent to as much as 20 points on your SAT, if I recall correctly. If a school posts student rankings and GPA's, then you have some idea whether you can or should try to pass the next student.

In any case, you will have a better idea of whether a lot of extra hard work will pay off. In fact, it might allow many students to relax a little bit.

le radical galoisien said...

Actually, once you're within the top 5%, I really don't think switching from Sal to Val really makes all that much of a difference, for that matter from rank 10 to rank 8. On the other hand, switching from rank 27 to rank 20 *can* make a difference.

le radical galoisien said...

"It might be better to get real college credit rather than pretend (AP) college credit,"


I did both. I don't know why you regard AP exams in that light. OK I BS'ed on them, but they can save you a lot of money. Like a whole year. I would have taken way more exams had I started in sophomore or junior year (I only took 2 junior year and 6 exams senior year, and self-studied for one exam).

Even though I self-studied for only one exam, I obtained 30 credits (!!) from AP exams.

So that's a full year.

Dual-enrollment only gave me 13 credits. And really -- many AP exams are all about skipping boring prerequisites, like starting at BIOL 3010 rather than 2010, and PHYS 2510 rather than 2010, etc. And believe me, college introductory courses are hard! AP exam courses can be equally challenging, but they're taken over the course of a year rather than a whole semester, and your class size tends to be smaller, etc. and you don't risk your college GPA in the process of getting the credit, so it all works well.

le radical galoisien said...

If you start taking AP coursework in say, sophomore year of HS, with AP classes like 4/4/6, and then self-study for 3 exams each year, and assuming an average of 3 credits per exam, then that'll be 22 exams * 3 ==> 66 credits.

Then, if dual-enrollment gives you 12-18 credits a year -- well let's be conservative and say 12, and you similarly start this in sophomore year, then it'll be 12*3 = 36.

Haha you'll enter college with 102 credits, and theoretical fourth-year standing. (The thing is, you'd probably do it across a wide range of fields, so you'd still at most shave 1 year off your graduation date. But it makes for a great college resume.) Schools have restrictions of course -- UVA doesn't accept CLEP nor does it accept more than 65 advanced standing credits, and some schools are even stricter.

le radical galoisien said...

And I really really really like being able to start off in a new field in college with some background. Most of all, courses should be taken out of interest -- and I would have taken everything (even AP studio art! but not music!) if not for the fact that courses often conflicted with each other. I couldn't take AP Chemistry because it conflicted with AP Physics C, and I chose Physics C instead. (But just as well -- I got into the 80 series chemistry track at UVA, where you start orgo in your first year and with a remarkably physics-inclined philosophy.)

And AP exam fees are usually waived for low-income students, that's also a plus.

Dual-enrollment and AP exams aren't mutually exclusive. You can take both. I recommend AP exams for social science credit -- I don't really recommmend dual-enrollment for the natural sciences, unless the institution you'll take them at is really good -- and often the lab component is taken during the day (not the evening) and will conflict with high school. Languages are good for dual-enrollment, and AP, if you're good at self-studying.

AP Calculus AB and BC are classics. Just take them, because in my experience those classes are better than dual-enrollment classes -- your peers also tend to be better! (Unless of course, you have a very good dual-enrollment institution.)

Linear algebra, ordered differential equations, Calculus C, etc. aren't offered by Collegeboard, so they're prime dual-enrollment material.

The AP Econ exams are a piece of cake. It's easy to self-study and it's really useful coursework even if you aren't going into economics, finance, etc. For example, economics and game theory find their way into biology, ecology and evolutionary theory (and from there, it could be equally applied to linguistics and sociolinguistics!) .... arguably the secret to the Ecology portion of the AP Bio exam is the AP Economics syllabus, except firms are now species and organisms, markets are ecological niches, etc. (In fact, even many of the equilibrium processes are the same.)

Many students don't get a 5 ... or don't even pass, but that's because the majority of the students don't really care how well they do -- they took the AP class so it would look good on their transcript or because their guidance counselor placed them there. If you love to study and understand concepts, many of the exams will be essentially easy 5s; and the exams are also curved generously!

Also, there are many online communities out there (i.e. collegeconfidential) full of kids taking the exams, who like your child, are determined to get 5s -- I guess it's also all about your environment and who your peers are.

Anonymous said...

All 4 of my kids started college with full sophomore standing, due to AP scores. Among them, they took calculus, physics, chemistry, US history, Euro history, US and comparative government, economics, geography, Spanish language and English Language. In the case of Spanish and economics, they skipped over the usual freshman course to a second-level one, with no difficulty. The other tests were used to bypass basic distribution requirements. Since UF was mentioned, one kid did the five-year BA-MA Fisher School of Accounting program in four years, with a finance minor. The other one did two semesters of internships and three semesters as a TA in finance. She had learned enough AP calculus to help her roommate with the college course. One of my other kids was able to triple major and double minor, in four years. None of their schools would accept more than 36-40 semester credits from AP, but it still was a significant cost savings over dual enrollment. Minnesota is an exception, since the PSEO program costs are paid by the local school district, including books and fees.

Anonymous said...

BTW, it is not necessary to take the course in order to take the AP test. One of my kids walked into AP English language cold, and passed. She had a conflict between AP Spanish and AP Geography, so she got the book and syllabus from the geography teacher, plus a study guide from the bookstore, and passed. For kids willing to work independently, this is a big plus and a great timesaver.

le radical galoisien said...

For the AP course sequence, I meant 3/4/6 for soph/junior/senior (pardon).

I'm really mad at my guidance counselor for not recommending AP exams to me during my sophomore or freshman year (she thought I'd be another low-achieving immigrant to Maine lol) ... I didn't know I could even self-study for them until senior year. What a pity! Well, at least I'm past that.

If you're really ambitious, you could do 6/8/8 or something (not counting self-study). You could even clinch the AP State Scholar award. Some states have lower bars; If I remember correctly, Texas' cutoff was 23 exams or something (for girls), whereas Pennsylvania was 15 (for girls), and only 1 boy and 1 girl in each state get the award. It's amazing why the exam cutoff isn't much higher (partially because again, high schools don't encourage self-studying. at all!), because if you start enthusiastically in freshman year, 16 exams by senior year isn't really difficult (it's
just 4 exams per year).

(And of course, ideally you want every exam score to be a 5; some schools, e.g. MIT, UVA, don't accept anything but 5s except for exams like Calc BC and AP Physics C.)

le radical galoisien said...
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le radical galoisien said...

"One of my kids walked into AP English language cold, and passed. "

Mmm, unless your high school teacher is really really mind-opening, fantastic and good, I'd say that for a lot of language courses, you're better off self-teaching (and seeking out other language users on your own).

Even my ex-gf from the TJ High School of Science and Technology (the #1 public high school in the country, and a regular source of geniuses with SAT 2300+s) tells me that the foreign language classes there weren't really challenging. In a single year and a half of self-study she basically went from complete beginner at French into 4th year French -- and she's the self-classified math and science type. Often until you seek out more intensive French study yourself, your peers will be a bottleneck. (My method was to play 3D video games online with a French team while using VoIP.)

For AP English Lang and Comp, while my teacher was a great guy -- I never felt my teacher *taught* me anything about writing and argument -- he just marked the papers and motivated me by being the proctor. Honestly, the secret to the AP English exams is to write BS, because the principle of falsifiability and constructing rejectable hypotheses doesn't apply to the exams. (In fact, I'd argue it doesn't apply to the field of literary criticism in general.) Honestly at times there weren't any clear reasons for how the author used device X in passage Y -- but I was required to write some, so I just made some up. You almost never have to worry about being "wrong" as long as you write a good argument and an elaborate analysis to support your answer. Just make up an argument, be extremely confident, find tiny subtle details to support your argument, and run with it! Easy 5. (Well OK, multiple choice is different, but then you have multiple choice, and there's no studying required -- just analyse the passage or statement in question and find the answer that makes most sense.)

The amount of BS'ability of the AP English exams is to the extent that the high school AP class tends to be harder than the exam. In a high school class, you're required to do reading, you're expected to know the text you're analysing, you're expected to know the analyses and interpretations previously given in class. You can walk into the AP English exams cold without any prior knowledge (except of course, you're supposed to know a few texts to comment about -- but you can choose them, as long as they are judged to have literary merit.)

le radical galoisien said...

"One of my other kids was able to triple major and double minor, in four years. "

Awww, I'd do that, but UVA only allows us max to have 2 majors and 1 minor.

UVA has a lot of interdisciplinary programs as it is, so it might not be necessary, but I might have to use a custom major just to incorporate all of my coursework.

SteveH said...

"...for that matter from rank 10 to rank 8. On the other hand, switching from rank 27 to rank 20 *can* make a difference."

You have to look at the formula. In one chart (senior class of 400), moving from 10th to 8th place gives you 2 points, and moving from 27th to 20th place gives you two points. You have to decide on which change is easier or whether it's worth the bother.

"I don't know why you regard AP exams in that light."

My comment had to do with whether you can actually get advanced placement, not whether the course is any good. Someone made the argument that you have to check, not assume.

le radical galoisien said...
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le radical galoisien said...

Mmm, but for higher-end schools (except for certain ones like UMich) I'm not sure if the formula is valid that way; I know UVA doesn't have a universal formula...

Some schools will also create imaginary classes for AP credit. For example at my school ENLT 2490 doesn't exist as a class. (We have too many literature classes to count -- a large variety of specific courses are at the introductory level. If you want to take an introductory English Department course, you could potentially choose from 10 different subtopics at the 200-level.) It however exists in name on the system to allow people to receive advanced standing credit for it (and when people apply to jobs or grad school they can legitimately claim they had humanities credit, etc.)

ChemProf said...

Just feeling the need to leave my usual warning about AP -- it can be great, and the more credit you can bring to college the better, but it isn't as much of a slam dunk as some folks think. One of the earlier posts in this thread talked about college credit with a 3 on the AP, but LOTS of schools only give credit for 4/5 scores, and some Ivys don't give credit unless you have a 5.

Having said that, you can get college CREDIT for any accepted AP score, even if there isn't an equivalent course. That credit can replace a free elective, and mean your student can either graduate earlier or take a light semester at some point (say when they are writing their senior thesis).

Students also have to think carefully about using AP to get out of prerequisite courses. If you want to major in English, then skipping Calculus is great. If you want to major in Chemistry, I'd recommend taking General chemistry, even if you have AP. Otherwise you can enter a second semester class where everyone but you knows how to write a lab report in the style that is expected or where there's some small topic (for me it is electrochemistry) that wasn't covered in your AP class. Taking the first half of a one year sequence at a community college can set you up for the same problem -- if you go that route, it's usually better to complete the full year-long course (General Chemistry, General Physics, etc.), but be aware that if your major requires a calculus-based physics sequence, you might have to retake that anyway! For all of these options, which are great, it helps to do your research for schools/programs that you are interested in.

Sorry for the long addition to this long thread -- I am getting ready for advising of incoming students, so all of these issues are on my mind!

Allison said...

One more thing to add to the mix: how much does an AP test cost?

I'm guessing that at a public school, the cost might be paid for your student out of the school's budget, but that's not so at private schools or on your own. Taking 12 AP tests and getting 300 credit hours might be worth it if they are free; taking 12 AP tests and getting credit hours for only 2 of them certainly might not be worth it if you are footing your own bill.

They were $60-70 A PIECE when I took them 20 years ago. Are they higher now?

oh, and I agree with ChemProf 200% about the value of actually using AP tests to opt out of college courses.

ChemProf said...

Oh, and also if your student is thinking about med schools, medical schools generally won't accept AP credit in place of required courses. There are some exceptions -- some med schools might take a year of upper division biology in place of a year of General Biology, but you'd have to check with the individual medical school. Further, none of them would accept an AP course and say that you didn't need a replacement college course. In other words, a student with AP Bio then one more semester of Biology would not be a sufficient replacement for a year of General Biology required by medical schools. This is partly because med schools have pretty stringent lab requirements that AP may or may not include, but it is also partly just because they can.

Grad schools don't seem to care, but if a student is even vaguely thinking about med school, I'd always advise them to take the basic med school courses in college (Gen Chem, Gen Bio, Gen Physics, Organic Chemistry, plus a year of English). It is also better to take these at a 4 year school -- med schools will accept community college courses, but view them as easier so you really need to have an A to be competitive if you take them at a CC.

le radical galoisien said...

I'd say never forfeit AP credit.

See, especially at higher-end schools you have courses that you get AP credit for, and then you also have a major sequence track (introductory-level courses that are more challenging than the AP courses they replace).

I would think that if you're a pre-med student, you're probably aiming for some sort of higher science course anyway. Btw, what medical schools wouldn't accept a biology-related major who placed out of BIOL 2010/2020? I mean if you take say, Neurobio, Biological Clocks, Genetics and Molecular Bio, Evol. Bio and manage to get a journal to accept a paper of yours by your 4th year, I really think they would disqualify your app on the basis of "oh you didn't take the first two introductory courses!"

Always accept calc credit. (You can self-study later!) In fact, my general advice is to accept credit and supplement any inconfidence with peer support and self-study.

In my experience, sitting through a class again -- knowing the sheer majority of the material -- is boring. It might be an easy A ... but gosh I wouldn't be able to stand it. You're sitting in the lecture hall, fidgeting uncomfortably, muttering under your breath and almost about to shout what will happen next. (What happened when I sat in at a lower-level orgo class to refresh my memory over the summer after the honors sequence.) IMO, it's better for your intellect simply building on previous knowledge with a new course.

Because of the cross-disciplinary nature of many sciences, it's also better to accept AP credit because for example, AP Physics credit can be used to satisfy the prereq to Physical Chemistry ... or Atmospheric Physics (for weather/environmental science). An honors chemistry "Chemical Principles" sequence often uses physics ideas from the very beginning of the first semester (i.e. quantised electric fields, spectroscopy...). It'll also be good leverage to get you into waitlisted courses (or to course action your way into a class in general).

I don't think I'd even have the space for any English courses ... I have to overload just to squeeze materials science and linguistics into my schedule. I also placed out of the foreign language requirement ... I have French phonetics credit and the credit for the highest level of French (after excluding literature courses). I certainly hope that placing out of language stuff won't be an issue ... I know a math-and-science friend who was like, "You need a public speaking course to get into pharmacy school? Wth?"

ChemProf said...

"Btw, what medical schools wouldn't accept a biology-related major who placed out of BIOL 2010/2020? I mean if you take say, Neurobio, Biological Clocks, Genetics and Molecular Bio, Evol. Bio and manage to get a journal to accept a paper of yours by your 4th year, I really think they would disqualify your app on the basis of "oh you didn't take the first two introductory courses!""

Maybe not, but some will. Why? Because they know how to compare grades for students with General Bio, but not with these advanced courses. Which two should they pick to compare you to other premed students? What if you got a B in Genetics? What does that mean? Med schools really don't care about advanced coursework, just about the overall GPA and the pre-med courses. If they did care about this coursework, they'd require a bio or biochem major, and students from post-baccalaureate premedical programs wouldn't be so successful in applying to med schools (these are students with non-science majors who do the pre-med coursework after graduation. Many programs have 85+% admission rates to med schools).

Having said that, you can certainly find med schools that will accept replacements for the pre-med requirements. It just usually limits you somewhat, and you have to do your research.
"IMO, it's better for your intellect simply building on previous knowledge with a new course."

But that's just it -- a lot of times, the AP course isn't equivalent to the college course, exactly, since it wasn't taught at as high a level. Your experience may be the exception, but I've had dozens of students in this situation, and it is rare that they don't learn anything in Gen Chem, even if a lot of what we do is review for them. If they just skipped into the second semester, they would need to learn a fair amount of stuff on their own that I assume everyone has already (since I just taught it!), and while some can, and you may be one of them, many bright students can't.

Catherine Johnson said...

I have a memory that tests are $80 now (but I could be wrong...)

Still, my 'memory trace' is strong enough that I'm sure they're not much more than that.

Allison said...

--In my experience, sitting through a class again -- knowing the sheer majority of the material -- is boring.

I would have thought this. Then I actually retook courses I was SO SURE I'd taken before.

And lo, the material *wasn't boring* because I actually understood it, and therefore had the ability to really grok it this time around, rather than struggling to keep up. Now, that happened late in my academic career--several YEARS after I'd received a bachelor's. So maybe you can blame it on having forgotten, but instead, I found that the stuff I previously thought I'd known I'd misunderstood, and the stuff I knew I didn't know was magically a piece of cake!

YMMV, of course, and it depends on the courses and the major and the university. But the idea that at a school like UC Berkeley or MIT or Duke that you really really know the physics course or chem course well enough that you know everything completely cold is false for nearly every student, even the very good ones and the very bright ones.

Even more, at most of those schools, there are honors versions of the same courses, and if you're seriously interested in a major that depended on those courses, then you should take the honors level course rather than get credit for the regular level one. This solves the boredom immediately, because again, nearly everyone really won't be ready for that level of work, or intellectual challenge.

Your regular-level boring refresher vs. honors level sequence is apples to oranges to taking a difficult college course after an AP class--the AP class is the one that's going to be the regular-level, and the college class can easily be the honors one.

The claim of previous knowledge is slippery, indeed. I've told this story ad nauseum, but I'd received a 5 on the AP calc BC test when I was 15; at 16, I had taken multivariate calc, differential equations and linear algebra at UC San Diego and aced every course. When I entered MIT, I was one of a handful of folks who actually received prior college credits for the calc sequence.

Despite that, I understood almost nothing about div, grad, and curl. I grokked it not at all. I still didn't really get what the span of a set of vectors was, and I was pretty much hopeless on understanding you could consider a 2nd order diffeq as a 2nd order polynomial. I badly hurt my experience in physics at MIT by not retaking those courses. I'd have done much much better in math and physics if I had.

le radical galoisien said...

I love 80 series chemistry here ...

The approach they took during our first year (and even during orgo) was such a fundamentally different one from how I usually saw general chem being taught.

In AP Chem I think, you learn a lot of facts and methods, but not principles. (I never took the exam though, just heard HS classmates talk about it.)

Nevertheless, I was delayed from taking higher bio courses (at the 300-level, excepting neurobio) because of the lack of general chem credit my first year.

And IMO, after you take 80 series principles and 80 series orgo, 40 series general chem and orgo becomes a piece of cake. (That's what I mean by "sitting through" -- sitting in a 40 series class as a refresher after taking the 80 series equivalent.)

But if I had AP credit I could definitely have surged ahead in some of the other sequences. AP credit is still very useful. Universities have good support networks -- I don't see why not just accept the AP credit but then take the harder course at the introductory level before moving on higher in the sequence. (In fact in the 80 series you start preparing for orgo by the second half of the first semester via discussion of spectroscopy and structure.) Often in cross-disciplinary prereqs (physics credit as a prereq to p-chem, chem credit as a prereq to some bio courses, etc.) I really think an AP background is all that is necessary.

SteveH said...

I took calculus in high school (pre AP days) and had to take it over again in college. For all of my college math courses, I felt like I was one step ahead, rather than one step behind. Others might be bored, but I didn't feel that way.

In any case, If you do get advanced placement, do colleges actually let you take less credits to get a degree? I didn't think so. I thought degrees were based on credit count, not just course coverage.

le radical galoisien said...

Well theoretically yes. AP exams generally give you credit (though some schools do not give you credit and use them merely to place out -- I think MIT does that?).

Catherine Johnson said...

Ed says elite schools give as little credit for AP scores as possible. The NYU history department will give credit for only one AP course. Doesn't matter how many AP 5s they have; they get credit for only one course. (He doesn't know what score you have to have to get credit.)

He also doesn't know whether other departments give any credit at all.

Catherine Johnson said...

Anonymous - did your kids attend state universities? Ed thinks state universities are more likely to give credit.

He says, too, that NYU students often use their AP credits to allow them to take more courses without having to pay more. In other words, there is a limit on how many courses you can take without having to pay more. If you've got an AP credit, you can start right in with a more advanced level course if you want to.

If, instead, you take the credit he thinks that you might be able to graduate 1/2 semester early (assuming other departments do offer a course credit).

Catherine Johnson said...


Here's another practice at NYU.

Students who are able to fulfill their course requirements by the end of 1st semester senior year can then take graduate courses 2nd semester, which count towards a graduate degree, thus shaving off one semester of graduate tuition.

NYU encourages this by granting some extra tuition rebates towards the degree. In particular, they encourage students to get Masters degrees through this process, guaranteeing that at most they will pay a half-year's tuition for the Master's degree.

Ed says it looks like law schools & business schools are impressed by MA degrees; Ph.D. programs are apparently quite friendly, too. They've sent a number of their BA/MA students to second tier Ph.D. programs, where they are doing extremely well, getting major grants etc.

Ed says, too, that a lot of the second-tier universities have fantastic faculty in Ph.D. programs & their students who've attended these programs are getting good jobs.

Catherine Johnson said...

Ed also says that AP credits are helpful to kids with double majors, which are common.

Catherine Johnson said...

Ed says to add that the BA/MA degree at NYU holds for any department that offers a BA/MA degree.

For instance, the math department offers a BA/MA degree, which means a student who wants to teach math can get a Masters in math and then go to a "crummy" state university ed school program for the teaching degree.

Catherine Johnson said...

He may have said cr****.

A cr**** state education program.

Catherine Johnson said...

the AP course isn't equivalent to the college course, exactly, since it wasn't taught at as high a level

I imagine this is a universal sentiment amongst college professors - though I **think** math professors perceive BC calculus as equivalent to college calculus. (pls correct me if I'm wrong)

Ed has always been quite dismissive of AP courses - but once he got a look at what the public schools are teaching, he wanted C. to take as many of them as he can manage.

And by the way, this isn't my Wifely Interpretation of Ed's views. This is Ed saying, out loud, "I used to think AP courses were bad and now I want C. to take as many AP courses as he possibly can."

Actually having a child go through public schools is a revelation. Before this experience Ed's view was that we should get rid of AP courses. I took my cue from him, and once told one of our assistant superintendents of curriculum (there have been 4 of them in the time I've been paying attention, and our current assistant super has just resigned) .... I once told one of the assistant supers that we should get rid of AP courses & he heartily agreed. I was just starting to figure out the score, but even then I had a moment of doubt when an administrator instantly took me up on the idea that AP courses should be abolished.

le radical galoisien said...

AP exams are in essence, like IB or British GCE A-level exams... you get credit for taking an exam.

AP courses merely prepare for the exams (though it also looks good on your transcript). A lot of exams are self-studiable ... but schools don't encourage their students to do that.

I was also mad at my guidance counselor because she never signed me up for the AP French Lit and French lang exams ... even though I had explicitly told her at the start of the year to -- we had no AP French class, but I was 2 years ahead of the cohort. She signed me up for Microecon but not Macro. We had no real AP econ class, just an honors econ class with a teacher who said he'd help me but never did.

Guidance offices don't seem to be ambitious -- they don't try to maximise your ability. At all.

le radical galoisien said...

You win points for having an AP course on your transcript at the admissions office.

You win credit for getting a 5 on the exam ... after admissions let you in.

So it's kind of a 2-fold thing. (Same thing with IB and A-levels, I believe.)

Abolish AP courses ... why? AP courses are the new honors (and honors courses are the norm.) I would definitely have been bored to death had AP courses been abolished, because there would have been nothing left in HS for me to take. (Well except home economics, graphic design, Art III, or something.)

Anonymous said...

Yes, my kids went to state universities; flagship campus in all cases.

For AP Spanish, even with a very strong sequence (starting in freshman year with 3 honors), taught entirely in Spanish, it is very difficult to get a 4 without immersion experience. Two of my kids did summer study abroad. I've been told that a 5 pretty much demands native-level exposure.

When my kids took AP physics (calculus-based; concurrent calc BC required) and AP chem, these were double-period every day and were preceeded by the appropriate honors-level course. There were three honors sections and one AP; all taught by the same teacher. The top 36 kids that applied for the AP class were admitted. Now that the gatekeeping classes have been de-emphasized or eliminated, the AP classes may have changed. At that time, even kids going to MIT and Ivies, used their APs to skip into courses.

Catherine Johnson said...

anonymous - wow!

Where is your high school, may I ask? (region of country - )

I'm guessing perhaps the Midwest -- ?

Catherine Johnson said...

Abolish AP courses ... why? AP courses are the new honors (and honors courses are the norm.) I would definitely have been bored to death had AP courses been abolished, because there would have been nothing left in HS for me to take. (Well except home economics, graphic design, Art III, or something.)


That's what Ed discovered.

He doesn't like the AP history courses for the same reason everyone doesn't like them: mile wide, inch deep; too much material covered in a year.

Wasn't until he found out what the alternatives were that his opinion swung round 180 degrees.

le radical galoisien said...
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le radical galoisien said...

Interesting ... the coreq for AP Physics C at my HS was just AB ... we had no BC (so I had to dual-enroll for that). You cover shell integration, etc. in AB anyway, and BC basically adds infinite series, Taylor series, etc. (i.e. not really critical for introductory understanding of Maxwell's equations).

"taught entirely in Spanish, it is very difficult to get a 4 without immersion experience. Two of my kids did summer study abroad. I've been told that a 5 pretty much demands native-level exposure."

I really think it's because of the way language classes get taught -- such classes try to increase spoken fluency directly by getting you to read more, etc. Reading more definitely helps ... but I see French V kids who still can't pronounce "la culture" correctly (because they don't pay attention to the /yR/ phoneme cluster), and then fall back to English pronunciation instead. [horrific]

One strategy I use when I help other students is to get them to write and read French in IPA (or even SMS.)

So a sentence like

"En écrivant et lisant le français en texto, on peut améliorer la maîtrise du langue parlé"

would be rendered in IPA (or X-SAMPA here -- as I don't want to type everything in special font)


(~ signifies nasalisation of the preceding phoneme before it.)

At first students read much more slowly -- simply because they have been relying on their knowledge of the correlation between English and French spelling to process French sentences. By converting French writing into a phonetic/phonemic alphabet and making them read and write in it, spoken fluency increases dramatically. Also, a lot of the word boundaries have been deleted (except where there would be pauses in real life) -- effectively making students practice their conversational skills on paper.

By training skills in the spoken language -- the foundation of the entire language (the written system is dependent on the spoken system) -- students' fluency and speed dramatically increase when they return to regular old French writing system. Predictably, this leads to native-level performance on exams.

Sound training tries to make up for many of the experiences of immersion not felt in the classroom.

le radical galoisien said...

Also, I really feel that language classes almost shoot themselves in the foot by narrowing their scope so, by not letting the target language encompass as many aspects of the learners' lives as possible.

Writing prompts are often routine and shallow; creative skills (beyond "use of correct grammar") are not really encouraged ... classes could be designed to give you an intensive immersion experience but they do not. The literature used is of the swashbuckling type (or perhaps more cynically, of the Candide type) ... but never equivalents of the Mrs. Dalloway type. Language is the primary medium to communicate ideas -- but if you don't allow the ideas themselves to flourish, how can you practice language?

Anonymous said...

Catherine - the school I mentioned was Thomas Wootton, in Rockville (Montgomery County) MD, and other local high schools had similar offerings. That was in the mid-late 90s. I don't know if they still have the same structure.

ChemProf said...

"Ed says elite schools give as little credit for AP scores as possible. The NYU history department will give credit for only one AP course."

The issue here is what do you mean by credit. Most schools will give credit, or units, for any AP course, so if you have three AP classes accepted, that is three college courses you don't need. A lot of elite schools, however, limit how many AP classes can fulfill major or prerequisite requirements, which is different but which is also often talked about as "credit". So, I had a 5 on the English AP, but for my school, I still had to take Freshman Writing. However, I did get three units for my AP score, which meant I could have had a light semester at some point.

Calculus does seem to be the exception, mostly because at most schools, calculus is interchangeable. The exception, as Allison noted, are engineering schools where they care about vector calculus. That was my experience: I took the AP, got a 5, took multivariable at the local state school, then had to take it again at my college because I hadn't done enough with div, curl, etc.

Having said all this, I'd encourage any student who takes the AP course to take the test. The credit can help you to graduate early, possibly, or to be able to go above course limits, or to replace some gen ed (say if you have AP history and want to major in chemistry or vice versa). It can also help you place into honor sections of intro courses, and those are often more interesting, especially at big state universities. But, you do have to do your research for specific colleges, and don't just expect that you'll get credit for any "passing" score on AP.

Catherine Johnson said...

The NYU history department gives credit for ONE AP course, period. You could come in with 3 scores of 5 on AP history courses (are there more?) - or 4, counting AP govt; you're only going to get actual credit for 1 course.

Not sure whether students could place out of 3 NYU history courses, one for each AP history. I'm guessing no.

I'll ask.

Catherine Johnson said...

Anonymous - wow!


Catherine Johnson said...

btw, when I say 'elite' schools, what I mean is elite private schools.

Flagship state universities are elite schools, obviously.

What Ed has explained to me is that the Ivies see an Ivy League education as a 4-year education, period. It doesn't matter what knowledge or prior course work a student comes in with.

I imagine the small, elite private liberal arts colleges have the same philosophy.

ChemProf said...

One thing you have to remember is budget -- state schools benefit if they can get students out faster, while privates usually don't. So state schools, including flagship state universities, tend to accept lots of AP, especially in these lovely economic times!

Rudbeckia Hirta said...

Dartmouth gave me enough AP credit so that I could graduate in 3 1/3 years. Could have done it in 3 years except one term I only took two courses!

Saved my parents a lot of money, that's for sure.

Catherine Johnson said...

Rudbeckia - hi!

Boy, no kidding (about the money saved).

So that was credit for 6 AP courses altogether? (Darmouth has a quarter system...)

Catherine Johnson said...

state schools benefit if they can get students out faster, while privates usually don't

oh, gosh - thanks for the reminder

though is it definitely the case that private schools **don't** benefit from getting kids out sooner?

Tuition never covers all the costs....

le radical galoisien said...

I really think it has to do more with the fact that legislators who appropriate funds to universities prolly have a say in the economic running of the school.

IMO, I don't mind not being able to graduate early. In fact I might want my full four years (since I'm on FA, and UVA gives me a loan cap of 22k anyway, which I'll likely reach by my 3rd year -- and then it's full grant coverage wheeeee).

But I do want those courses on my transcript and to be able to use them to get into interdisciplinary programs!

Allison said...

--state schools benefit if they can get students out faster, while privates usually don't

This is really an indirect issue. The state schools usually need to serve MORE students, and one method for doing that is to try and get students out faster (though this isn't what's been happening at e.g. UC Berkeley. Cal's problem is the more kids come in with AP credit, the more likely they are to lighten their loads, drop courses, or take courses they wouldn't otherwise take, rather than get out in 3 years.)

It's not clear privates wouldn't do better financially to get kids out faster, but privates probably won't be able to serve more students anyway, because they only taken kids in fall terms, take in so few transfers, only graduate kids at the end of May, and otherwise are designed as a lifestyle.
Even if you get them done in 3 1/2 years, because of their other structures for housing, advising, small seminars, etc. there's no way to bring in someone new to fill those spots.

Catherine Johnson said...

Some of the big private universities have a solution to the problem Allison raises, which is lesser degree programs they use as 'feeder' programs when students in the liberal arts program drop out.

NYU has one (I forget what it's called); U. Penn has one, I believe.

It's good to know about these because they're easier to get into and you can usually transfer into the liberal arts program or take courses in it, etc.

Ed's brother in law, who's an administrator at a small private school, told us those programs exist to make sure you always have your class filled.

Catherine Johnson said...

U Va - wow!