OPINION: AP/IB Classes Cause Unneeded Stress



In freshman year, Fallon McDonald ‘18 realized that TAG Algebra II was not the class for her. Her pre-International Baccalaureate (IB) classes were already hard enough, and math wasn’t her strongest subject.

“The environment was just so intense,” McDonald said. “Obviously everyone who was in that class had already taken Algebra II. I was not feeling particularly strong in math, so I was getting super stressed and super worried.”

McDonald was able to switch to on-level Algebra II, but only after she had purposefully failed the first test. Now, she’s very happy with her decision to change math classes, but still struggles with the stress of the IB program and has seen her peers struggle as well.

“IB is a really good equalizer,” McDonald said. “Everyone is miserable, but everyone is at the same level. Nobody is extremely superior to anyone else.”

Over the past few years, the general public has gained more awareness about the amount of stress high schoolers have to deal with. Though there have been many discussions over all the health problems stress can cause, high schools still haven’t made enough changes to help students. There are many possible reasons for students’ excessive stress, but arguably one of the biggest causes is Advanced Placement (AP) and IB courses and testing. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. AP/IB courses don’t deserve all the credit and energy we tend to give them. They both have the potential to be really strong programs in the future, but right now they have many flaws that College Board and IB refuse to acknowledge.

“I guess the stress comes from competition,” Mae Marabella ‘20 said. “But some of it is getting the highest rank you can get. I think the school could have less homework or less competition between students.”

Based on a report sent out by College Board about the AP Exam takers in 2013, 55.9% of the AP test takers were Caucasian, 18.8% were Latino/Hispanic, 10.7% Asian/Asian American/Pacific Islander, 9.2% African American, and 0.6% Native American. It also said that only 27.5% of AP Exam test takers are eligible for free lunches compared to the 48.1% of all k-12 students eligible for free lunches. It can be argued that AP tends to benefit students who already have a greater advantage than their peers. So AP could, in the long-term, create a greater educational gap between the economically advantaged and economically disadvantaged, because as the disadvantaged tend to take less AP classes — possibly for time to take care of family or work — the advantaged add more impressive classes on their resumes and look better for colleges.

There is also a toxic stereotype associated with students taking on-level courses. It is believed that on-level students are inherently less smart than those students taking AP/IB classes. This can resonate with anyone not in AP/IB, advantaged or not, and that low self-confidence can hold back non AP/IB students even more so. In theory, the solution to this problem could be to change the perceptions of on-level classes in students. However, teachers, counselors, and the administration can tend to pressure and/or guilt students into taking AP/IB classes. It may be because they want the students to benefit from the possibility of earning college credit, but that doesn’t serve as proper justification.

According to The Atlantic, some college professors have also complained that the AP curriculum isn’t sufficient to what they teach in the actual college course. College Board did update their AP U.S. History courses as well as AP Biology, but there is a chance that AP classes just cannot give the same college-level education in a high school class format. So though it may be worth it to still take the class for a more in-depth curriculum, it may not be equal to a college class. One solution to this problem would be to increase the difficulty to receive college credit by altering what AP test score will give a student college credit. Some colleges have already taken it a step further by not accepting AP credits altogether.

College admission officers have also said that they don’t pay that much attention to how many AP classes a student may be taking. According to the Boston Globe, “‘Taking eight AP classes your senior year instead of taking six AP classes is not going to make a difference to an admissions officer,’ says Peter Jennings, the director of college counseling at Concord Academy and a former Tufts University admissions officer. ‘They’re much more interested in the life of the mind and the quality of the work that students are doing. I think that message gets distorted, and that creates the AP mania.’”

Most students take AP classes for the grade point average (GPA) boost that would help the students’ ranks as a result. It also looks good on college applications and resumes. With all these bonuses, of course most students will sign up just for the benefits. But maybe that’s the issue; they sign up just for the benefits, not for the more advanced learning. That should be what the AP/IB classes are about. If a student genuinely wants to learn more than what they’re being offered in on-level classes, they should be given an option. But that’s not what people take the AP/IB classes for. They take it for their GPA.

Stresswood definitely contributes to people choosing to take classes they are not prepared for,” McDonald said. “They force themselves through it because they’re so scared of GPA. Like there are kids who won’t take on-level Pre-Cal because they’re so stressed about their GPA, but they’re failing the pre-AP class! Everything is so driven by GPA and rank, and it’s not healthy for students to keep living like this.”

Of course, there’s no perfect solution for the problems in the AP/IB systems, but some problems can be solved by simply educating ourselves on the pros and cons to taking  AP/IB classes. Hopefully if the administration and school culture can stop pressuring students into these classes, high schools can be happier and healthier.