The Eagle’s Cry Classic (January 2008) – Zach and Joe Have a Civilized Debate / Tear Each Other’s Throats Out

November 6, 2015

In 2008, Bethpage High School transitioned to a more lenient AP class admission philosophy. Previously, a student needed high grades to be considered for admission to AP classes. After the policy change, if a student wanted to try an AP class, they were encouraged to do so. Students and faculty debated the issue. In this classic exchange Zach Wichter–now a member of NBC “Dateline” staff–and Joe Niczky, currently a law student, were two of the more outspoken and took to The Eagle’s Cry to shout their opinions.




AP Classes Only For Those Who Belong There


Taking AP classes is an honor generally reserved for only the highest-raking students in the associated subject area. However, as schools vie to boost their ratings, this honor becomes a mandate to almost every student taking the subject.  The problem? Newsweek bases its formula for high school rankings on the number of students who take the AP test – not those who pass it. This is a very unfair rating system, and leads to students struggling in AP classes, when they could excel in a regular class.

Now, I’m not saying that there are no benefits to having non-traditional AP students taking AP classes, but really, they are few and far between, and are far outweighed by the problems. If there are students in AP classes who are having difficulty keeping up, the intensity of the class decreases by default as the teacher tries to help them. This is unfair to both the students having a hard time – they may not belong in such a challenging course – and also to the students who do belong there, because they should be challenged to their fullest ability – that’s the purpose of an AP course.

Students who may not be able to handle AP courses might often feel pressured to take them. However, if the pressures put on them were relaxed, it would benefit all students. Rather than regular classes being robbed of top students, they would have a few students who care enough about the subject area to excel, but not the grades to do well in an AP class. With such students in regular classes, passion would return, making the teachers’ jobs easier, making the class more interesting, and possibly even raising the bar for students who normally struggle in regular classes.  In the words of a classic cliché, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

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AP Classes For Everyone

Bethpage High School’s policy is to encourage as many students to take AP classes as possible. In fact, some teachers – particularly those in the history department –sign up most of their students for AP classes, regardless of their grades. This leads many students who wouldn’t normally take these classes to enroll. Cynics view this as a way for the school to boost its position in the annual Newsweek rating of public high schools (which is based on the percent of students enrolled in AP courses). While this may be true, it is also beneficial to the students.

The policy of nondiscrimination when it comes to AP classes exposes students to new educational opportunities. The challenging courses make students apply themselves, possibly for the first time. In fact, this theory has been so successful that the percentage of students earning a passing grade of three or higher is now higher than ever. The nature of these courses will help prepare students for college. Even if students do not do well in AP courses, they will still have an advantage in college over students who did not even take the AP course.

There is some concern that students who cannot handle AP classes will take advantage of the policy and simply fail them. However, most students know what classes they can handle. Even if AP classes are available to them, if they feel they are too hard, they won’t take them.

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