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[Susan notes: Watch for that word rigor again: What all college-bound students need more than anything else today is a healthy exposure to rigorous academic curricula while in high school.

If I don't do anything else, maybe I can convince educators who care about kids not to use it.]

Published in USA Today

To the editor

Commentary writer Patrick Welsh's fears of oversaturation of Advanced Placement (AP) coursework are greatly exaggerated. What all college-bound students need more than anything else today is a healthy exposure to rigorous academic curricula while in high school. In the absence of anything remotely comparable, the AP program seems to best provide such rigor (“Watering down ‘advanced' classes,” The Forum, Tuesday).

Studies have shown that academically rigorous coursework is crucial to future success in attaining a college degree. Currently, more than 40% of entering college freshmen nationwide won't graduate within six years. It follows that one of the surest remedies to avoid becoming one of the college-attrition statistics is to take challenging high school courses. In many cases, the amount of academic rigor in high school has proved to have a much stronger correlation to earning a college degree than an individual's race, socio-economic status or gender.

Clearly, AP coursework matters a great deal for those wishing to graduate from college.

I strongly suspect, however, that there is an underlying issue to Welsh's objections. I fear he does not dwell nearly enough on the brutal teacher accountability embedded into the AP program.

Unlike almost any other nationally standardized assessment tool, the College Board's AP exams expose individual teachers to unprecedented levels of academic scrutiny. This means that if Welsh's students fail their AP exams, there will be only one person in the building whom a school administrator will look to for an explanation.

Quite understandably, the prospect of an annual — albeit ad hoc — “teacher report card” tends to frighten many teachers. To be an AP teacher is to acknowledge the presence of an unspoken yearly competency exam. Discussing this professional scrutiny will be a necessary step to overcoming teacher objections to further expansions of the AP program.

I hope that the solution will not be to discourage more students from taking AP courses or AP exams. Nor should it be to artificially raise local AP admission bars so high that only valedictorians and National Honor Society students can ever qualify. AP coursework should be open to all students who profess an interest in attending college. If they should fail, let them fail trying rather than because they were denied an opportunity to compete.

Patrick F. Gould, associate researcher

Center on Education

and Work School of Education

University of Wisconsin at Madison

Patrick F. Gould

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