OMG – My Daughter Dropped an AP Class!

IMG_1433.jpgI have been trying to write a book filled with the things I want to teach my kids, but lately I’ve been wondering if I should ditch it and write a book about the things my kids teach me.

I have talked a good game to other parents about having perspective about the mind-numbing game of college entrance. The top 10% rule is toast at UT and A&M. UT announced that it is now top 6%. Will it be 5%, 4% in 2 years? Who knows? The latest I heard about A&M is that they are going to be exempt from this rule – or that they are allowed to restrict it to 30 percent of their admissions. Either way, it’s changing.

The pressure started for my kids in 5th grade. A high school counselor visited my oldest kid’s school during assembly, and he came home in tears because he was sure he was in the wrong math class. He still holds the math against me – even though it all worked out JUST FINE.

Back to my daughter – she plays tennis, which has a fall and spring season and requires her to miss a lot of school in the spring, and she is an amazing artist. She decided this year that taking 6 AP/ Pre-AP classes was ridiculous and would keep her from her art. So, she dropped Pre-AP Computer Science for Money Matters (already proving to be one of the most practical classes in all of high school) and dropped out of AP World History which would have been the biggest time sucker of her year.

She is transformed. Seriously, her shoulders are more relaxed, her skin has cleared up, her mood improved, she is sleeping better, and she is working hard on her art. She feels like she has reclaimed a big chunk of life. Because she is less overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work, her engagement in her classes has jumped. We are having great conversations about Algebra concepts, Fahrenheit 451, 401K’s, and ancient civilizations. We did not do this last year when she was trying to keep her head above water and was constantly sleep deprived.

To be clear, my daughter is a smarty – really smart – but even for the really smart kids, the path they feel obligated to take to be competitive in high school is terribly unhealthy. Are they capable of taking all of these classes and passing their AP tests? Some of them clearly are, but most of them are zombies. Her friends who are at the top of their class are not the happiest kids I know. They look like they live in a pressure cooker – because they do!

School districts, counselors, teachers, parents, and even some Ivy League school admissions counselors have begun the serious discussion about the need to cap the number of AP classes students take in any given year. Without a cap, kids will always be tempted to game the system instead of approaching high school as a way to broaden their horizons and explore their potential.

My son played 4 years of tennis and spent 4 years in choir – 3 in Chorale. Choir was one of the most challenging courses he pursued – the sight reading and all-state music they performed was mind-blowing. But it was not a 6.0 class, so he paid a price. Most students at the top of his class dropped any fine art after their freshman year and many of them also dropped out of sports in order to stack their schedule with 6.0 classes. We did the math upon his graduation to see what would have happened if he had gamed the system a little and given up tennis or choir to stack in the computer science. He would have competed for the top spot in his class! But at what cost? His experiences in tennis and choir were more important for his personal development than any one of his big AP classes.

Back to the second kid… I wish I could tell you I was jumping for joy when my daughter told me she was not going to play the AP game, but honestly, it took me a day to come around to it. I was scared of how it would impact her to be lower in class rank. I got over it. I’m even more over it after seeing the positive impact on her spirit. She is still in 4 6.0 classes, by the way.

The only way we are going to help all of our students pursue more balanced and healthy lives (besides changing our ridiculous school start time) is to place some kind of cap that encourages them to broaden their horizons. Because our school offers an IB program that would give an unfair GPA advantage to IB kids, I would suggest that there be a cap of 4 AP classes for freshman and sophomores. Kids would be more likely to spend another year in the arts or try out for a sport, try an on-level class that is out of their comfort zone, spend time with their families, get more involved in their community, or sleep!

As far as college admissions – this was my observation over the past 2 years of counseling various graduating seniors: Every kid who wanted to go to college is going to college. Many kids got into great universities. Most of them were not guaranteed entrance. I saw several kids gain entrance to A&M who were NOT close to the top 10 percent of their class. Some of them went the Blinn route. Some were required to show up a few weeks early to take a couple summer classes.  Many kids landed in fantastic programs at smaller universities and are already telling me how thankful they are to have smaller class sizes.

I have also seen a Lone Star College trend. Mostly due to the financial crazy of college, many kids who are capable of getting into universities are still deciding to spend a year or 2 taking all of their basic requirements at community college. I know people who teach at Lone Star. I wish my kids could be in their classes. Several kids I know would have struggled to get into the “big 2” TX schools, but they received a scholarship to Lone Star and will enter university as juniors having not spent a penny on tuition.

The point is – your kid can go to college without burning themselves out trying to game the system. There are a handful of kids in each of our Magnolia classes who will be looking at Harvard/MIT/Rice and the like. I’m not writing about them. I’m writing about the other 200 something kids who are making active plans to go to a university. My advice to them? Do your best – but have a life, develop as a human, and know it will all work out.

If you still can’t stand it, I’ll let you in on one more observation. You are better off encouraging your kid to be realistic about coursework and invest a little time and money in solid SAT/ACT tutoring. Most of the universities (including UT and A&M) put as much or more weight on these test scores as they do class rank (not fair, but true). In fact, outside of the guaranteed entrance thing, the colleges my son applied to did not want his weighted GPA. They wanted his real GPA – the one that does not take AP classes into account. His scholarship at LA Tech was based on his straight GPA and his test scores. His AP classes were hugely beneficial, and the teaching was excellent. He learned a lot, improved his SAT/ACT scores, and is very thankful not to be taking those classes all over again in college. I’m all for hard classes and AP, but I’m also for healthy kids!

So, do you homework and understand the system. Know your kid and be willing to advocate for his or her health, even if it means not playing the game. 4 years of exhaustion is a long 4 years. It takes the love out of learning. Our kids are more than numbers. We all know that deep down – now let’s help them put that truth into action.

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