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New Changes to High School Rankings & Pre-AP Courses: Why It's Occurring

Over the past few months, I’ve been attending conferences to learn about how the college landscape is changing both within the high school planning as well as at the higher education level. I’m seeing some of those changes being implemented in many school districts locally. However, I believe parents and students, are not going to react positively, only because they aren’t understood.

The first change is that some school districts are no longer allowing students or parents to know class ranking until the student’s senior year, right when they are applying to colleges and for scholarships.

North East ISD is one of the districts making this change. When I’ve mentioned this to families lately, they are not happy, and I understand their concerns. It’s what has made college acceptance such a hot topic lately, specifically following the “Varsity Blues” scandal. The question becomes, “How can we play the game if we don’t know the rules?” Or even more, “How can we win if we don’t know the score?”

At college admission conferences, I can tell you there has never been more focus on, “How do we change things?” One way to change things is to reduce the pressure class ranking puts on students, and parents. If you talk with fellow high school parents who are engaged, you will learn, it is a game. A game of taking all Pre/AP courses to gain rank, no matter whether they plan to go into the field they are taking classes in, for example STEM. It’s all about the numbers, at the expense of being balanced.

A dirty little secret, which isn’t really a secret, is the widespread cheating that goes on in schools to stay at the top. No one is going to like this statement but unfortunately it is the truth. Any time I bring this up with my students, they instantly confirm, “EVERYONE is cheating…everyone!” Now, I absolutely believe not everyone is cheating but in working with clients all over the US, this isn’t just a Texas statement. It’s a product of “doing whatever it takes” to stay on top and maintain ranking.

In addition, the unfortunate part of class ranking is every student is given a definition of worth by a number. When class rankings are assigned, students are asking each other their “worth.” For kids who have learning difficulties and are proud of their own accomplishments, it’s another example of them feeling they aren’t smart enough. I don’t think enough is talked about on this topic and how this affects the self esteem of our youth. And the feeling of being inadequate.

Universities have for a while been going towards a more holistic approach for college acceptance. 90% of all colleges and universities within the US are not highly selective! There are multiple ideal college fits for students, not just one.

The second change coming is The College Board has decided to patent the “Pre-AP” name and charge districts to use their name, hence provide “Pre-AP courses.” This is making school districts go back to Honors classes and promote Dual Credit.

I attended a presentation at a conference put on by The College Board and was baffled why this was being changed. As I sat and listened to their presentation it just did not make sense to me, so I visited with them afterwards. Their reasoning is, schools are using “Pre-AP” in courses the teachers are not qualified to teach. I asked them, if indeed that is the situation, why do they care? The student must still take the “AP” course, pass it and then test well to get the credit. That is where their money is made, by having students take the test. The College Board is now requiring each school to pay for certification to give the course or they will not be allowed to offer “Pre-AP” classes. Now think about how many schools offer Pre-AP courses. Almost every single one in the US.

I challenged them by stating, “To me it sounds like The College Board is looking for a new way to gain revenue and that is why you are “Patenting” the “Pre-AP” name.” After much discussion, they could not convince me I was wrong.

What’s interesting is districts are not happy and are now saying we are going back to Honors classes and promoting Dual Credit. Interesting enough, I had a teacher tell me she had 3 AP certifications in different content area with no syllabus from The College Board. The goal of advanced classes is to prepare our young adults for college courses, hence succeed and be prepared.

As we begin a new school year, the College Admission Decoded podcast, produced by The National Association for College Admission Counseling with the President-elect, a director of college and alumni programs at the Thurgood Marshall Academy in DC plus the academic dean and director of college counseling at St. Christopher’s School & author of the Ethical College Admission column in Virginia, provides insight on the Varsity Blues scandal. The series examines how the college admission process works for the approximately 20 million students who apply each year, as well as challenges to the process that the scandal brought to light. The series also spotlights how college access and college admission in the US can continue to make progress toward more inclusivity, transparency, and service to students.

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