Students, there is more debate about the objective of AP courses than you might imagine. That is to say, if you surveyed all of the teachers of AP courses at our high school you would find a wide range of answers regarding the intent and assessment of an AP course. Some feel that the course should directly prepare students for the exam, and the objectives should directly match those published by the College Board. Others see the AP curriculum as a guideline, one that should not get in the way of helping students enjoy the course. Missing from this important conversation is a discussion of the relationship between the standards by which the grades are awarded within the classroom and those used to apply the AP score to student work. In other words, what does it mean to get an “A” in AP Chemistry? Should there be a relationship between earning the highest grade in the classroom and the final score on the actual exam?

I get it, in some ways the grade should reflect all that is important within the context of the classroom: participation, homework, quizzes, tests, lab reports, papers, projects. This is tough to refute, as the day-to-day classroom experience should be maximized in every way, and therefore rewarded within the grade. The limitation of this approach though is seen in the wide variation of grades from teacher to teacher, even within a subject. In addition, grade inflation is rampant within our school and awarding even a “C” feels harsh. Just like the students in Lake Wobegon, we are all above average, gifted and special, so we should all be getting “A’s” to reflect this. My thinking is slightly different when discussing AP courses. The objectives are clearly defined, as are the assessments for these objectives, so why not make classroom grades use these already-defined goals? Shouldn’t an “A” in the course be the same as a “5” on the test?

There a few problems with this connection, though. First, given that the score on the AP exam is not known until after the grades are published by the AP graders there is no way to use the official test as a grade in the course. In addition, what should be the meaning of an “A” in the course? Is it the same as a “3”, “4”, or “5”? When should the final exam be delivered: before or after the national exam? How is it possible to create an equivalent exam that lasts 3 hours in a standard high-school schedule? However, the value of using the exam as preparation for the national exam is tremendous. In my opinion, it makes it worth the effort to overcome these significant challenges in order to deliver the exam to the students with the grade incentives.

“The Deal” = Here is what I offer to my students

- Regardless of the grade entering the final exam, if they earn a “4” on the text they will earn an “A-” for the second semester. If they earn a “5” on the final then they earn an “A” for the semester.
- This deal is voided if any assignment due after the final exam is scored lower than an “80%” and the final exam is worth the standard 15% of the semester grade.
- For a student that has a grade higher than an “A-” and if they earn a “4” on the final exam then the exam is scored as a regular final exam, worth 15% of the grade.
- For those students earning less than a “4” on the final exam, the exam is worth the standard 15% of the semester grade. The final exam scores are translated such that the lowest “2” is worth a 70% on the final exam.

This is a slightly different version of the “deal” compared to what I offered in the past as earning a “3” on the exam used to be the trigger. The reason for the change is simple: it should be a high bar to earn this, and earning a “3” is the minimum target for success in the course. I am a little anxious about this change as the deal has been a huge motivator for students in the past and I don’t want to alter that. But overall, I am confident that this will continue to motivate students in the second semester while raising the bar to match the complexity of the course.

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