The AP Language Exams Might Be Bullshit (Formerly “Nutty”)

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34 thoughts on “The AP Language Exams Might Be Bullshit (Formerly “Nutty”)”

  1. Ben, I want to make sure that I am following you. When you refer to L1CI, does choral reading fall into that? And what is the sweet spot with that? Or are you referring to teachers at times falling into L1 and the classes desires to throw out responses in L1 outside of choral reading?

  2. As I am rolling towards the AP Exam with my Grade 12 students, “nutty” certainly comes to mind. If you do not have a 4%er, how on earth can they pass this new AP with only 500 hours of input???

  3. I truly believe that this is about power and money. The AP has lived off 4%ers, both as teachers and students, for a very long time. It’s been an elite power game that in its conception isolates “regular” students.

    Now, as the standards change, as we move toward the realization that “the gig is up” for the 4%ers, and we must change to include all kids and to reflect the Three Modes and the 90% use statement of ACTFL, the AP people just say, “Oh, we’ll just hold them all accountable for being able to understand stuff that requires 3000 hours (minimum), and who cares if they only get 500 hours to prepare? As long as we get our money.”

    It’s like taking a 14 year old and making them play pro baseball.

    Here’s my point, reflecting what Jody said earlier today. The AP people get their money, nobody calls bullshit on them because of the stranglehold that this AP company has on its brand name with the public, and the game is continuously stacked against the teachers in favor of the monied interests.

    Here are some things Jody has said in her two comments this morning that expose the lie that the AP exam is a reasonable one and that the system is very much completely resting on individual teachers’ shoulders, a very frightening situation in my view, even a dangerous one, and one that is getting much worse very quickly to the point where mental health of the national teaching corps in this country is a serious issue.

    I just really appreciate these sentences from Jody:

    …we have internalized this oppression and have a difficult time distinguishing between what we really CAN do and can’t….

    …I am alone in my classroom with full responsibility for solving the “problem”….

    …I am challenged in so many ways. Checking in with myself about what’s happening to me on the inside, what action I need to take….

    …we are living under pressures and expectations from the public and the government that are not based in reality….

    …it’s about the unrealistic expectations coming from ignorant thinking….

    …this doesn’t even touch the present eduformer situation most teachers are suffering. I personally believe we’re in a war. It is difficult to stay compassionate toward the oppressor and toward ourselves in times like these….

    …I vote for facing the truth of ourselves, really working on the skills WE need, and forgiving our messy human mess….

    We could play along. I will give the AP French exam to my third year kids next year. But I won’t look at the scores. I’ll just send my Latino kids to college with a better looking transcript. I want to use the AP exam in my kids’ favor. But, even when I do it that way, the corporation wins.

    1. I watch this show called Pretty Little Liars. One of the girls on the show, Spencer, is an over achieving high schooler. Another character asked Spencer what something meant in Latin because she had taken the AP test. Spencer replied that she had received a 5 on the test but didn’t remember a thing (I think that is how it happened). I laughed out loud. The reality of this is sad but I fear it to be true. There are so many students that work this way because their foreign language classes are about memorizing word lists and then regurgitating them for the test. They do not internalize much.

  4. I thought I should point out to you, Ben, that 115 is more than 101 here in the Golden State. It has something to do with more tens and ones or something like that.

  5. Stop. I have never seen a team play like that. Ever. They could crush Mr. James & Co. right now. Curry is from another planet. Sick. That team has the same fan base as the Niners. It’s magic. More power to you guys!

    The Warriors have actually invented a new brand of basketball. Planet Ball –
    where half the shots rain down as meteors from outer space and somehow find the basket.

    Seriously, if they can keep that up they’ll win it all. Bogut is a perfect big to compliment the Meteor Men (Thompson and Curry – best backcourt in the history of pro basketball.)

    It’s actually fun to get beat by a team that good just to see that quality of ball. We’re good, you’re best.

  6. “how much time we have vs. how much time we need”

    We have to be fake in one of two ways. Either:

    1) We are fake to our students and set them up against unrealistic expectations thereby destroying their self esteem and love of language


    2) We are fake to our admins when they ask to see a bunch of data representing all the stuff our kids can do with the language

    Both of these options can put us on thin ice professionally, so that’s a wash. Number 1 leads to declining enrollment. Number 2 can lead to disaster if done without tact.

    For what it’s worth, I now go for number 2. I’ll talk around all the requirements placed on us from the outside and squeeze my way into collecting data in the least detrimental way possible. From that I’ll give them stuff they can use to check their boxes. But I cannot make another kid feel stupid in my class for not knowing, for example, the difference between the direct and indirect object.

    Let me be clear: I used to be a number 1 guy. I used to make kids feel stupid. I don’t want to do that anymore. So now I’m a number 2 guy.

  7. I must be the #1000 guy in the Latin teacher pecking order in my area. A few of my students just took a Latin placement test for high school. First of all, if they are planning to enter Latin 1, I don’t see why they need to take a placement test (I will have a talk with our HS placement guy about this). I tell them not to sweat it, because they aren’t trying to place in Latin 2, and that they already know more of the language than most 2nd year students in high school, even if they don’t know how to talk ABOUT it. Still, it really is hard to hear them talk about these tests, which are about making them feel stupid and inadequate. Charts, translation into English, explanation, etc. it’s all BS. Today, I couldn’t help it, I just made fart noises while a student told me all the junk he had to do for his placement test. He knows I don’t care about this stuff, he’s in on the joke, and he also knows that he knows Latin, even if he doesn’t know all the jargon. It’s just too bad that of my students who do decide to take Latin in HS, most of them have to put up with that crap for 4 years. The ones who love languages, I tell them not to bother, and go with whatever language has a teacher who teaches like I do.

  8. Charlotte Kroeker

    Is it really not a problem for the AP board if very few students pass this exam? Is there no one with power able to protest? The statistics must bear out the decreasing number of students who pass.

  9. I doubt that they want that question asked, Charlotte. They have a good thing going, a million dollar business. And they have us where they want us – we all want their approval. We are willing to grovel. We are willing to accept their definitions of numbers and their edicts, as in this article describing results for ALL AP tests, not just foreign language tests:

    Question: Is My AP Score Good Enough?

    Answer: AP scores are much more straight-forward than SAT scores or ACT scores since the AP is graded on a simple 5-point scale. However, not every college treats AP scores the same way.

    Students who take the AP exam will get a score ranging from 1 to 5. The College Board defines the numbers as follows:

    •5 – Extremely well qualified to receive college credit
    •4 – Well qualified to receive college credit
    •3 – Qualified to receive college credit
    •2 – Possibly qualified to receive college credit
    •1 – No recommendation to receive college credit

    The five-point scale, probably not coincidentally, can also be thought of in terms of letter grades:

    •5 – “A”
    •4 – “B”
    •3 – “C”
    •2 – “D”
    •1 – “F”

    The average score on all AP exams is slightly below a 3 (a 2.84 in 2011). In 2011, of the more than 3 million AP exams administered, the grades broke down as follows:

    •5 – 14.4% of test takers
    •4 – 19.5% of test takers
    •3 – 23.6% of test takers
    •2 – 21.1% of test takers
    •1 – 21.4% of test takers

    Now for the bad news: Although the College Board defines a 2 as “possibly qualified” to receive college credit, almost no college will accept a score of 2. In fact, most selective colleges will not accept a 3 for college credit.

    In the majority of cases, a student who scores a 4 or 5 will receive college credit. In rare cases, a school may require a 5. The exact guidelines vary from college to college, and they often vary from department to department within a college. At Hamilton College, for example, a student can receive credit for a 3 in Latin, but a 5 is required in Economics.
    Source: Alan Grove at

    1. Here’s the breakdown for Spanish, same source. Keep in mind many of these kids are native speakers, totally skewing the results in favor of the college board. I couldn’t find results for non-native speakers only. Maybe you can. Hmmm.

      The distribution of scores for the AP Spanish Language exam is as follows (2011 data):
      •5 – 22.2%
      •4 – 25.7%
      •3 – 21.1%
      •2 – 16.1%

      My guess for non-native test takers on the AP Spanish exam is:

      •5 – 5%
      •4 – 10%
      •3 – 20%
      •2 – 40%

      That’s about a 65% fail, with the real numbers. I’m making this shit up so don’t get excited.

      Notice the corporate sales feel of this incidental addition to the article from which the above numbers were taken:

      Why AP Classes Matter

      Hmmm. I wonder if Alan works for AP white man.

      1. I also like this phrasing in the articles. I smell Alan Grove’s shilliness in this:

        Is My AP Score Good Enough? AP Classes – Why They Matter.

        Good enough for whom? If I do CI with my kids for three years and they go and fail the AP exam, then I guess I wasn’t good enough for the college board. I guess I failed. I guess the time in lighthearted laughter 90% of the time shows I failed. I really need to keep that in mind. They tell me if I fail or succeed. Smiles and love of learning and a desire to learn more don’t enter into the decision. The College Board is in charge. Am I good enough? Are my kids good enough? Oh, please please tell me I’m a good teacher! Please!

  10. Maybe we should call the College Board and ask how many (and these are four percenters) really pass the AP language exams. Call and ask:


    Then let us know back here. Maybe we can look at the numbers and smell them. I smell a rat. Whenever I hear the word “corporation” I smell that same rat.

    Let me be clear about the rat I smell. I am not saying that AP Corp is lying. I think that they are doing an admirable job of doing what all businesses are set up to do – make money. The rat I smell is in the entire make up of the entire thing. The way we believe it, the way we believe that those who write the exam are in close enough with the research to make the best test design questions. I don’t think they are! I think the exam is a farce, for reasons mentioned over years here, the main complaint being that this is an elitist organization with elitist personalities writing elitist tests for elitist kids and I see it on some deeper level as a scam and nothing more that is being perpretated against innocent kids and teachers with significant deleterious results. Like I said – a rat.

  11. If one wanted to suggest a positive motive for the College Board, one could suggest that a conscientious school district could be persuaded to put in place a well-articulated and rich K-12 language program in order to increase the numbers of students who might pass. As it is, only the well-articulated private schools can produce the contact hours needed for consistent performance on an AP. So, the marginalized kids are not at all rewarded for their audacity in taking these tests, unless they are native speakers. I would have to agree with you, Ben, that these tests are created for the very few.

    1. In California the State Standards bear the title World Language Standards for California Public Schools Kindergarten through Grade Twelve and describe what a student ought to be able to do after thirteen years of instruction, which reflects Leigh Ann’s suggestion about a possible positive motive for the College Board. Most school districts feel free to ignore the implications of the title of the document, just as they ignore ACTFL’s and College Board’s description of 1) what can be accomplished at different levels and how long it takes to achieve them and 2) College Board’s description of the level for which the AP exam is designed, instead blithely suggestion that foreign language teachers ought to be able to get their students ready for the AP exam in under 500 hours of contact time.

      Currently my district is congratulating itself for exploring the possibility of offering Spanish at the middle school level, without a word about any other language. This is typical of how well schools and districts meet the standards for World Languages.

  12. Andrea Westphal

    Just curious, but who pays for the tests? We do not offer AP at our school on the basis of cost (the students have to pay for the test) and since most, if not all, post-secondary language departments require plancement tests…Am I missing something here?

    1. In my district, students pay for the AP exam. However, students are not required to take the exam, even if they take the class. California’s constitution and several court rulings ensure a free education to every student. Therefore, anything that is required must be available to students without cost. This includes things like sports uniforms, musical instruments, and AP exams*. Therefore the district does not require students to take the AP exam. I have 9 AP German students; two of them plan to take the exam. The rest simply signed up for the class with no intention of taking the exam. That is fine with my, by the way.

      *The way that this works in practice is that various groups ask students to pay a fee, but if a student cannot pay, then the student is provided the material for free. For example, last weekend was our German Language Immersion Camp. One of my seniors in German 3 excitedly took an application, then later handed it back with the comment that he couldn’t go. I know something of his family’s circumstances, so I handed the application back to him and said, “If the only thing standing in your way is money, don’t worry about it. Just sign up and go.” He did, the club fundraising provided a “scholarship”, and he had a great experience. No one but me knew that he had not paid. Also, I keep a supply of paper and pencils. If a student shows up without materials, I do not get angry about students not bringing their materials to class; I just go to the paper supply, grab a few sheets of paper, a pencil and a whiteboard, and hand them to the student. Today a student wasn’t starting to copy down the focus structures, so I went to get the stuff, but he said, “All I need is a pencil.” So I gave him one. At the end of class he handed it back.

      1. So true on the pencil thing. But I think that there are still teachers getting pissy with kids who need pencils, like they did it on purpose through laziness and deserve a look from the teacher. What bullshit that is. It’s hard enough to grow up. Some kids have trouble at that rough age in their young lives just keeping up with themselves let alone some dumb ass pencil and how did a piece of wood get associated with learning anyway? Did the Greeks do lots of note taking back when they were tearing up the planet with new and very cool ideas?

  13. Charlotte Kroeker

    I will just continue to tell my students not to forward their mark to the university until they have seen it. Anything below a four is useless for university really. They have redeveloped the German Exam and have made it far too difficult with topics like “globalization” and “beauty and aesthetics”. The students who can pass this thing are either bilingual students or 4 % ers who have been to Germany on exchange. I am becoming increasingly frustrated with this thing!


    Hi Ben,

    The above link shows all ap subject scores by any state, and by minority breakdown. Scroll down to the bottom of that webpage for the state list. For example, in Kentucky 988 students took AP Spanish, 404 received a 1, 188 received a 2 and so on.

    Just wanted to make sure your members knew the real scores are there, just buried in ap central. Notice that the word “scores” is missing in the link. It’s just data and participation.

    The Kentucky report , for example, looks like this:


    Dan Skidmore

    1. Thank you Dan.

      Did you find any for languages only? This is the area I am suspicious about. One guy complained online that he got 5s on all the AP exams he took but in Latin got a 3. This is the kind of thing I want to explore – how AP languages are scored, who actually takes them, all that.

      The fact is that the AP machine is so fully in place in non-language AP classes, the system is so perfectly adopted to using the smart minds of four perenter type kids to be able to claim a successful AP program in various schools, thus bringing name and fame to the instructors and some kind of weird promise to the four percenter kids, that everyone is happy.

      I’m not happy. I see it as a mass mind fuck in non-languages, and an even bigger mind fuck in languages.

    2. I can see that the reporting is off. For Alaska, they claim only 12 kids took the test in Spanish at all, and I know for sure that the number just at our school was closer to 50.

      The statistics are horrifying (percentages), but that’s a different story that all of you are covering well.

      No other state has such small numbers that you’d be able to notice a disparity, but it’s possible for us.

  15. Hey did you look at the Kentucky results for Chinese? Seriously impressive! I would love to know what they are doing down there!

    Think about it. Of the five Kentucky kids who took the AP exams in Chinese, four got 5s and one got a 3. They must have started in 8th grade. That is some serious comprehensible input! And they had to learn the characters! The teacher must be very proud! Wow!

    (Sorry, but the sarcasm stems from the fact that teachers often give native speakers the test and make it look otherwise. In my school, the only kids who take AP Spanish are from Mexico. I know this for a fact bc I was discussing it with our only Spanish teacher on Monday. We have about 75 kids among our population of 2000 who don’t know Spanish. They don’t ever take the AP Spanish exam. Why should they? That would lower our numbers that get sent to district number minions where there are monetary incentives for schools with big AP scores.)

    1. I can’t understand why a native speaker of a language should be in a foreign language class with non-native speakers, or why they should take an AP exam.

  16. They are in those classes for the same reason that they put people with PhDs in Physics in high school Physics classes. Just kidding. Why? Because it makes them look better! If the Chinese students in Kentucky weren’t Chinese, I would be very surprised.

  17. Sadly, in that quote from Le Petit Prince, most teachers would ask questions like this, instead of just letting the passage be:

    What do we do with our time?
    Do we know how to use our time for important things?
    Do we know how to spend time on enjoying life?

    Those AP type of reflective questions, what the French call “explications de texte”, which are really sick things, are supposed to help make our lives better by getting us to reflect on higher order ideals, but when they are forced on us in an AP setting they cause us to not want to do it. The AP exam is such bullshit in that way. Forced life is not life at all, but doing things that are in some way based in fear. I call for a general moratorium on all AP exams. Freedom!

  18. I’m still, slowly, reading this book called Play and there’s one passage about how some Silicon Valley businesses have moved away from hiring the all “As” students from Ivy League schools with all the right credentials and shining resumes… president of newspaper, volunteer manager of Cambodian refugee manager, etc. Many of these shining stars, it turns out, are not creative problem solvers. Instead, Silicon Valley has started to ask candidates about the kind of play activities they were involved in as kids. Like, did they build a tree house or did they take apart a computer.

    Preparing our kids for the AP exam may take away from our ability to provide a space to play in our classrooms, a space where creative problem solving skills take shape. (Although I do not how much we really help students problem-solve in our CI classes… perhaps its more of helping students adjust to change and spontaneity in human interaction, especially with our autistic kids.)

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