Honors English and ponderings about the importance of AP tests

At the beginning of the year, DC1 was signed up for all the hardest classes zie could be signed up for as a Freshman.  AP World History instead of Human Geography.  Algebra II pre-AP honors.  Biology pre-AP honors.  JV Orchestra.  Honors Computer Programming… And Pre-AP honors English.

This English class quickly had a detrimental effect on our entire family.  After four years of zero homework (other than the Year of Crafts) and taking half a year to read a simple YA novel in middle-school English, zie was suddenly getting nightly essays, heavy reading assignments, and lots of things zie had never been trained how to do.  Instructions were vague and confusing.  Grades were low and seemed capricious.  English was taking all of DC1’s time and all of our time too trying to figure out what the teacher wanted.  (This is in heavy contrast to AP History in which the teacher is scaffolding essays and giving clear instructions about what she is looking for in every assignment– there’s a lot of work but it doesn’t seem so random.)  One of my work friends had a kid in AP English I with the same teacher the previous year and said it never got any better in terms of time, though hir kid did eventually figure out how to earn As in the class.  She spent all last year complaining about the class and is not really sure what was gotten out of it (other than the ability to do assignments quickly at the last minute and to use tiny words and very simple sentences so as not to get points taken off for spelling/grammar/usage).  So it’s not DC1!

The final straw was an essay on why DC1 wanted to take English Pre-AP.   What zie came up with was that zie wanted to get into a good college and taking an AP English class and getting a high grade on the AP English tests would help.  And… as an educator, I kind of think that’s a piss-poor reason to be spending all this time in such a terrible class.  In fact, if it lowers DC1’s grades in other classes more related to hir interests, or keeps hir from inventing something or exploring extra-curriculars or even just getting enough sleep, then it might hinder DC1 from getting into a good college.

So, we found out that there was a second level of English class that is still honors English, so still on the 5 point scale.  Sadly, it had had fewer assignments and they had all been easy 100s (ex. sign up for turnitin.com), but DC1’s low grades transferred over instead of allowing hir to do those assignments for credit, AND the weighting was different so DC1’s grades dropped even lower. But it’s been slowly moving up, though not to an A.  This English class also seems to be equally capricious on subjective things and there have been several quiz questions in which DC1 picked the correct multiple choice or T/F question but the teacher said it was incorrect even when DC1 backed it up hir answer with textual evidence.  So DC1 is still getting a B, though the B is now higher than it was in the previous class (and hir grade is literally 10 percentage points higher than the class average, which is a C).  I have resigned myself to the more and more likely possibility of not having to pay for MIT or Harvey Mudd.  DH’s alma mater and my sister’s alma mater both have very good computer science/engineering programs and if DC1 keeps up As in all hir other classes, never getting an A in English might still be ok.

Although the grading is still capricious, the instruction is much better.  They’re taught things before they’re asked to do them in an assignment.  They spend a week on things that the other class would do in a day before moving on to something completely different, so there’s time to review and reflect and apply feedback.  There’s also more choice in assignments and MUCH more literature written by people who aren’t dead white dudes, and the literature for the non-pre-AP class has been updated since 1970 (I’m looking at you A Separate Peace).  They’re still cramming what seems like all of Midwestern 7th and 8th grade English into a single semester along with Freshman English (minus the two Shakespeare plays– they only do Romeo and Juliet this year, which we also did as Freshmen), but it’s not at quite such an insane pace.

My friend says English Pre-AP II is almost but not quite as bad as I, so we’re not sure if we’re going to have DC1 switch back in the future.  Non-Pre-AP English II sounds pretty good– they do a big section on modern World Literature that I think could broaden DC1’s horizons a lot.  It is true that getting 3s or higher on the English AP exams would allow DC1 to waive English requirements if zie went to a state school, but they’re pretty useless most of the places zie is looking at applying.  Or if they are useful, zie would need 5s for them to help at all.  I did take one of the AP English exams despite not having AP English (it was an accident– I’d meant to cancel the exam for a refund but somehow didn’t when I cancelled the other AP tests that the college I was going to didn’t accept), and somehow managed to get a 4 even though I guessed most of the multiple choice answers since they were full of terminology I had never heard before in my life.  (This is what I was supposed to be learning all those years, I thought.)

In the mean time, we will keep trusting the AP history classes to teach DC1 how to write.  We’ve heard amazing things about AP US History which zie will be taking next year.  I have to say, I learned a lot more about how to write clear and concise essays in my history classes than I ever did in an English class.  Probably because I never had a deconstructionist history teacher.

Did you take AP exams?  Do you think they’re useful?