It’s time to rethink AP grading in classrooms

Mark Williams, Editor-in-Chief

The average LO student takes several Advanced Placement classes in high school. Usually, a key focus of an AP class is preparing students for that all-important May exam that can earn appealing college credits. AP exams are hard and both students and teachers understand the rigor of these tests. Classes need to cover an enormous amount of content in a limited time, and teachers fight hard to help their students not only pass but achieve high scores on their exams. Because the exams are so difficult, College Board curves the vast majority of AP exams ensuring that at least a certain percentage of students earn fives.

Earning a five, the maximum score, on an AP exam can be daunting, but for some exams, the material is incredibly difficult. As a result, for exams like AP Calculus BC, you only need a 62/108 composite score (roughly a 57 percent) for a five. That means the “F” we may take on a graded practice AP exam may actually be a five or what College Board considers to be an “A” student. Thankfully, Calc BC teacher Daniel Kumprey has not given his AP Calculus BC class a graded full-length practice AP test, but many of our teachers routinely test us on AP material and score it as a typical test. It is definitely important to practice AP content, and I am not disputing that tests are an inevitable part of the student experience; however, these tests are putting a considerable strain on students to perform at or above AP standards.

AP grading and tests cannot grasp a student’s complete understanding of the subject. As a student, when I take AP English Language and Composition, I would like to pass the exam but more importantly, I am (hopefully) taking the class to become a better writer. Becoming a better writer comes with rough drafts, feedback and experimentation, effort and a lot more time than just 40 minutes. Judging a student off of a short timed essay is not necessarily any indication of their authentic skill as a writer. The same concept can ring true for most AP exams, especially for classes such as computer science where trial and error is a fundamental part of the learning process.

It is true that some AP teachers do curve tests to account for the difficulty of the course and grades are typically padded by assignments; however, there are many teachers who have elected not to curve their tests nor account for the AP scale. As a former Pre-Calc student, I would be willing to bet that tests will not be curved even as Pre-Calc eventually becomes an AP Course. Additionally, for many math classes including Pre-Calc, a lack of a homework buffer means students may be exclusively tested on AP content. For students getting Bs and Cs in the class and fours or fives on the exam it begs the question: Is such a grading system fair?

One of the most preferred solutions by students is to curve tests. Many teachers and students have their own opinions about the best or most fair curving strategy, but many students would agree that the top score on the test probably deserves a full score in the grade book (or at least close to it). A valid counterargument is that being harder on students motivates them to work harder preparing them for college courses and their work later in life. While it may be true that an AP course might be easier than a true college course, we first as students would like to get into said schools. A “C” on our transcript may build character, but it won’t exactly help build our college application. Importantly, I am not advocating for teachers to just hand out free “A” grades, I just believe that it is critical for students to not be taking too much of a risk in their pursuit of knowledge. It is critical for students to be able to take courses that they know are going to be uncomfortable. Maybe a student does struggle in a certain AP class, but I feel that they should still be commended regardless for trying. Handing out a “C” or “D” to the student who would have otherwise earned an “A” in a class such as American Contemporary World is disproportionate. This is especially as LO students typically pass their AP exams or at least perform at around national averages. Devising platforms of grading that make courses less risky for students genuinely interested in the knowledge would incentivize more students to pursue more learning.

Grading will likely remain a sensitive topic among both students and teachers no matter what educational changes are made. There is also no set answer for what the best system may look like for every teacher and for every student. Regardless, engaging in healthy discussion and considering the loads placed on students is critical to making our school a better place. To fellow students, keep plugging along and remember to keep in mind the loads you will face in daunting AP courses. To the teachers, just keep in mind that the national standards of College Board rarely correlate to the 100 percent scale.

For more information on what exactly determines an AP Score, you can always check out AP® Score Calculators for 2022 | for the latest curves on all AP exams. Keep in mind that College Board considers a five to be an “A,” a four to be a “B,” and so on.