Advanced Placement, Gifted Education & A Hometown Debate

Anna Peterson, via a kind reader’s email:

This afternoon, I received an outraged phone call from my sister. “A bunch of obnoxious and pushy parents are demanding West High offer more AP classes. They say West needs to improve talented and gifted classes. Can you believe it? I knew this would happen someday.” Although my sister’s characterization of these parents’ complaints was less than completely accurate, her impressions and outrage will be shared with many members of my high school’s community. This makes me both frustrated and concerned for my former school.
Madison West High School prides itself on its diversity, fine arts programs, and impressive academic achievements, and West prepared most of my classmates well for our college careers. The preparation, however, did not involve many AP classes. Some of my classmates took AP exams for subjects in which they had not had official AP classes, and they often scored well. But many of us took only an AP language exam or maybe an AP calculus test. Historically, West’s teachers have resisted forgoing their own curricula in favor of those dictated by the College Board. And with instructional minutes treated like a precious commodity, I can see why many teachers don’t want to sacrifice the six weeks of school after the AP exams to the severe senioritis that overcame my classmates and myself in the few AP classes I did take. I have great respect for my teachers’ anti-AP position, and I think West is a better school for it. So whether or not these “obnoxious and pushy parents” are demanding AP classes for their gifted children, I share my sister’s skepticism of changing West’s curriculum to fit with that of the College Board.

Complaint Filed Against Madison Schools.

2 thoughts on “Advanced Placement, Gifted Education & A Hometown Debate”

  1. One of the major concerns is not regarding AP classes, though the variability in access across the four high schools is an issue, but rather the lack of accelerated options in ninth and tenth grade.

  2. via email:
    One point that I didn’t discuss much in the Roosevelt blog post, primarily because I didn’t expect to have many readers who were familiar with MMSD, is that I do share my sister’s concern about the diversity of gifted programs at West. Implementing programs at West, even with extremely conscientious identification, will leave many gifted students without the services they need. This will happen because many gifted students get lost in Madison’s middle schools, especially in Madison’s most diverse middle schools.
    My freshman year at West, I took accelerated biology, accelerated geometry, and concert band (the sophomore/junior level of West’s three bands). I was the only freshman from Cherokee in my biology class, either the only one or one of two (my memory is failing me on this one) in my band class, and one of only seven freshmen from Cherokee in any geometry class. Looking back, it’s clear to me why I got the chance to take more challenging classes than many of my peers: summer science camps through UW, private flute lessons and All-City Honors Band, and a fortunate combination of elementary and middle school teachers who encouraged my natural interest in math. In a word, I was lucky. I had opportunities many of my classmates didn’t have.
    I had many great teachers at Cherokee Middle School, but Cherokee did not have Future Problem Solving, Science Olympiad, or many of the other extracurricular programs targeting high achieving students. Gifted students languished long before they arrived on Ash Street, and expanding TAG programs at West will only help those students who have made it that far. Unfortunately those students tend to be from Hamilton and Madison’s private schools, the less racially and socio-economically diverse middle schools that feed into West. To serve all the gifted students at West and to make MMSD a “gifted-friendly” district, programs need to start long before high school.
    I hope that as you advocate for improved gifted programs at West you will also address the lack of gifted programming at many of Madison’s middle and elementary schools. Only with improved programming at all schools will West’s gifted programs be as diverse and successful as students deserve.

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