Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Test-Prep Culture Strikes Again!

Break out the popcorn- it’s movie time for AP classes around the city! It’s common knowledge that after the AP test, AP classes become a total joke. At LaGuardia, stories are passed down about the dumbest, most irrelevant movies teachers have shown for the last month of school, or which AP teachers expect you to actually come to their class after the test. It would be a lie to say that some part of me does not enjoy this payoff for hard work, but I do think it reflects poorly on the test-prep culture that we have entered.

Though they are test-prep courses by nature, I find that AP classes still teach you information that will be useful for life. Unlike most standardized tests and the SATs, I find the AP tests to be measures of real learning and understanding, not the ability to test well. Because of this, learning how to write essays or speak spanish for the AP test are skills that I will need forever. But in these last few weeks of school, when all learning in AP classes ends abruptly, I wonder if my teachers feel the same way. If the AP skills are life skills, why do teachers stop teaching the day after the test?

It seems to me that when the focus of a year is a test, teacher’s do not push themselves to go beyond. A month of school is a lot of time to waste just because “we took the test.” There are a number of skills we could be learning in this time to help us with any given subject in the future. The AP Composition test is over, but I have hundreds of essays left to write in my life, and other ways in which I will need to use the skill of being able to organize and write out my thoughts. There are hundreds of good books left to read and analyze. There are hundreds of countries I plan to visit where I will need my spanish skills. Additionally, the time after the test should be prized teaching time. To me, it’s every good teacher’s dream: with no test at the end, teachers can teach whatever they want, however they want, and at whatever pace the students need. Students and teachers complain a lot about the limits of standardized testing, but then so many do not take advantage of the freedom that comes when the test is over. I see this as a reflection of the era of extreme testing we have entered. I would encourage AP teachers and students alike to take advantage of this time of looseness to teach and learn in new, interesting and creative ways.