The recent audit of Advanced Placement courses mandated by the College Board (see “First Ever AP Course Audit Benefits Stakeholders” in this issue) may cause some parents to question whether AP classes are still a good choice for their gifted children. They are, assures Dr. Joyce VanTassel-Baska, the Jody and Layton Smith Professor of Education and executive director of the Center for Gifted Education at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
“AP courses remain a strong option for gifted students.” —Joyce VanTassel-Baska
“AP courses are a very good thing for the gifted student, as long as the quality of the courses is maintained,” stated VanTassel-Baska. “AP courses remain a strong option for gifted students.” VanTassel-Baska also founded and directed the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University and is the past president of the National Association for Gifted Children.
VanTassel-Baska likes the flexibility of the AP program. “Gifted students can pick and choose how they participate,” VanTassel-Baska explained. “They can take correspondence courses online, they can attend a summer course, they can work with a tutor, or do it on their own.”
“The heart of the matter with the College Board audit is to ensure that certified, trained teachers meet the criteria the College Board has set, and that school districts are monitoring it,” she stated. “AP is not a magic bullet at the secondary level, but it offers a very strong option for gifted students to receive college credit and move forward in a compressed time model. The quality of the courses is important to that capacity to move flexibly forward in a student’s area of strength.”
The view from two gifted schools
At Pine View School in Osprey, Florida, “there was some groaning, but our teachers did not find the process too taxing, even though the audit forms were intense,” said College Resource Teacher Leslie Chase of last year’s AP course audit. Pine View was established in 1969 as the Sarasota County Public School District’s full-time gifted program. It currently serves 2,200 students in grades 2-12, with 190 staff members. The high school, which offers 24 AP courses and 18 honors courses, has a total of 768 students.
“When the audit was first announced, it was an unknown, so teachers were a little apprehensive,” Chase noted. “In the end, they felt validated, because the audit made sure a minimum standard was set. And now it’s done, and teachers only have to update it each year.
“My impression was that the audit was requested by colleges and universities to address discrepancies between what students’ transcripts said about AP courses taken and their scores on AP tests,” said Chose. “Every student takes the same final AP exam, but colleges wonder whether a student with a 3 score is receiving the same quality of instruction as a student with a 4 or 5 score. Did the students who score a 3 receive the same quality of college-level instruction? The audit will help ensure that everyone is taking the same course and receiving the same level of instruction.”
Chase said that many of Pine View’s teachers have taken AP workshops or have masters degrees in the subject matter field of the AP course they teach, so they are well-versed in course content. “Some of our instructors have run workshops if they’ve been teaching AP courses for several years, and a few of our instructors are AP graders,” she added.
The Davidson Academy of Nevada, a unique public day school set on the campus of the University of Nevada in Reno, does not offer AP courses. The school, in its second year, was founded by Bob and Jan Davidson and recognized by the state legislature as a public, tuition-free school for profoundly gifted students. Currently the Academy serves 44 students ranging from ages 11 to 16, some of whom are taking classes at least three years beyond their grade level.
According to Carmen Garcia, Curriculum Coordinator at The Davidson Academy, standard AP courses do not fit the vision of the Academy in terms of providing an individualized education at an accelerated pace. At The Davidson Academy, each student has a personalized learning plan, and the majority move at an accelerated pace through their curriculum.
“AP courses are somewhat regimented to follow a specific curriculum at a specific pace, but Academy students need something that is more flexible,” said Garcia. “AP courses are designed to serve many students in a traditional classroom. Academy classes are small and customized to the students’ interests. The Academy seeks to be a unique educational option by offering courses that are taught in ways not readily available elsewhere. Plus, Academy students have access to the University of Nevada, Reno, college campus, which offers a myriad of other options for them in terms of coursework.”
All Davidson Academy students are encouraged to take AP exams if they feel they are ready to do so. “We think AP is a great program for many students and schools,” added Garcia.
—Debra Bell Geiser, BS
Freelance writer Debra Bell Geiser holds a bachelor of science degree in agricultural journalism from Iowa State University. She is the mother of a seventh grader enrolled in a talented and gifted program and lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.