Should AP tests in AP classes be graded on the AP curve?

Should AP tests in AP classes be graded on the AP curve?

AP classes are the highest level of class offered at Schreiber. They are at a college level of difficulty, and the exams reflect this difficulty. Therefore, teachers should factor the difficulty of exams into their grading processes.

The AP exams that occur at the end of the year for AP classes are graded similarly to a bell curve.  The grades on an AP exam do not follow the typical 0 to 100 or letter grading scales.  Instead, students are given grades between one and five, with five being the highest.  The College Board, the organization that creates, distributes, administers, and grades all AP exams, uses a bell curve for good reason.  Due to the challenging nature of the constantly evolving and changing annual AP tests, it is at times truly impossible to compare students’ performance from year to year.  Therefore, when grading the exams, a curve is used such that roughly 12 to 20 percent of students receive a five, while eight to 20 percent receive a one.  From there, generally 15 to 25 percent of test-takers obtain a two or a four, and the final 30 to 40 percent, which make up the largest proportion of test scores, earn a three.  

The reason the exams are curved this way is because many colleges provide course credit to students who receive a four or five on an exam.  If the test were easier one year in comparison to previous years, how would universities use AP test scores to assess students’ mastery of the curriculum in these courses?  The goal of curving the exams in this way is to ensure a uniform grading system in which every student earns a standardized grade.

The majority of students in Schreiber enrolled in these college-level courses have at one point or another taken an exam where the entire class averaged in the mid-70s or lower, despite the students having studied h​​ard to learn the material on the test.  If teachers want their students’ grades to reflect their effort and mastery of coursework, they should grade our exams using the same method the College Board uses to grade our AP tests. 

This would not be a completely new style of grading for Schreiber as a whole, though. Mr. Thom Johnson curves the tests in his AP Physics C class similarly. AP Physics C is regarded as one of the most difficult classes in Schreiber, which makes it the perfect class to set a precedent for bell curve grading.

A bell curve could also increase fairness by accounting for potential fluctuations in the difficulty of each test; some tests are harder than others, and poorer performance on harder tests doesn’t necessarily indicate poorer grasp of the coursework.  The likelihood of academic dishonesty would also decrease because students would be discouraged from sharing test answers with classmates taking the test after them.  Further, Schreiber states that AP classes are encouraged for students because the difficulty experienced in an AP class will prepare them for the difficulty of classes in college.  This type of scoring encourages teachers to challenge students by making tests more complex, requiring the ability to think critically and solve problems, rather than just rote memorization, because the grades students receive will not depend strictly on the difficulty of the exam.

Schreiber gives a GPA bump for AP or honors classes on the premise that these classes have a higher difficulty, and maintaining a B+ has the same level of difficulty of maintaining an A+ in a standard, less rigorous class.  As AP classes tend to be even more demanding than honors classes, this thinking should be further extended to individual tests in AP classes, which would ensure that students’ grades would reflect their mastery of the coursework.