During the early part of the 20th century, the gap between high school and universities began to grow. After students received their high school diplomas, they found themselves unprepared for what was ahead in college.

After World War II, the College Board came up with Advanced Placement classes to help bridge this gap and make the transition to the rigors of the college curriculum easier for students. The program has been so successful that it has been expanding in recent years to provide more access in low-income and minority neighborhoods.

However, the need and importance of AP classes have been questioned in recent years.

Data proves that AP students are more likely to ace their tests than their classmates who haven't opted for the classes. Supporters say AP classes prepare students to tackle the steep learning curve in college academics and not be overwhelmed with the high standards.

Past AP students have admitted that the gap between AP and regular classes can be drastic. They are thankful they opted for AP which helped them master college. High school students take these college-equivalent classes and then take a comprehensive exam at the end of the school year to determine if they'll get the credit.

A quick look at the benefits of AP classes:

  • Potential to earn college credit
  • Potential for early college registration
  • Earning credits frees up the student's schedule for study time or trying out new subjects
  • Gives students strong writing skills which help in all subjects
  • Helps students develop critical reading and communication skills
  • Even if students don't pass the AP test, they are well-prepared to take the same test later in college
  • The demanding schedule teaches them time management, which is crucial for not just college but also professional life ahead

Critics of AP classes, however, do not believe in these benefits. They are not in favor of the rigorous curriculum and the test-based system that is still dependent on individual college-selection criteria.

As educator John Thompson writes, the merits of AP classes are overhyped and need a revisit. Thomas Ulticon, a high school physics and math teacher, says we need to "rethink and roll back" the expansion of AP classes.

These opponents say claims made by the College Board do not mirror the experiences and realities of minority student groups. The demanding curriculum prevents students from developing conceptual understanding and building functional knowledge, more geared toward rote memory.

They feel the AP program does not address the real problems facing public education: knowledge gap.

Despite these misgivings, the number of students taking AP classes is on the rise. Students opting for this program have the opportunity to study more than 30 different subjects at the college level. With a 3 or higher score, they can opt out of equivalent college courses and tests, which saves a significant amount of time and money.

For example, AP students from Alabama public schools, who earned a combined qualifying score of 19,460, saved over $47 million in college tuition. For a nation that is reeling under student loan debts, this should be news to savor. The state has seen an upward rise in both AP course offerings and the number of students signing up for them.

Teachers strongly believe students always rise to the challenge when faced with a more rigorous curriculum. They want to create even better opportunities for their students to help them succeed in college.

Are AP classes the best option?