AP TESTS: Boon or Bane?


The 2018 AP scores have recently been released and students across the country have eagerly been checking their College Board accounts and hoping that their hard work will have paid off in a score that will earn them college credit.

For less than a $100 per test (and lots of effort), a student can sometimes earn 3 or more credit hours of college credit, saving themselves and their parents hundreds of dollars. More importantly, they often enter college with a sense of mastery and confidence that is likely to have significant benefit for their future college success. Even those that do not “pass” the test and earn college credit will likely benefit from having taken a challenging course and learned about the work ethic and their own study habits that they can then use to make changes before they enter college.

Still, there are many critics of the AP Program, who believe the courses provide little academic benefit and cause undue stress on the students.

For an excellent critique of the AP program, based on an analysis of the available research, please check out Stanford University’s Challenge Success program and their white paper, “The Advanced Placement Program: Living Up To It’s Promise?”

It should be noted that their analysis is now five years old and would benefit from an update. Additionally, it should be noted that in my opinion there is not a lot of quality peer-reviewed research on the AP Testing program and outcomes. Still, this white paper is a good starting point and raises pertinent issues.  I would love to see College Board collaborate with a group of independent researchers to really dig into the data.

I also think the questions raised in the white paper about the program might be helpful from a policy point of view, but if you are a parent interested in helping your child, or an educator looking to start a new AP class at your school, the white paper has less value.

I agree that AP courses are not the solution for all that ails the education system, nor is it appropriate that every student takes an AP class in order to be successful in college or life.

But in an age when college expenses are making access to higher education increasingly out of reach for many families, the chance to reduce those costs through placing out of introductory classes or earning actual college credit itself is a true benefit for many families.

Another benefit is that the courses generally are of a higher rigor than one would ordinarily get a high school course, and although this varies from school to school, for many students taking the rigorous course and being successful in it can be a confidence booster.

Still, there are a few things that I dream of that I believe would increase the utility of the AP program through increased equity and access to higher education. In no particular order:

  • Allow schools to opt to teach the curriculum over an extended period. Whether this is through the actual AP course itself spread over two years or a preparatory course one year that leads into the AP course.  This would especially benefit students who are non-traditional AP students, or students in schools that might have socio-economic factors that might limit the students success in taking a condensed, faster paced course.
  • Allow students to take an AP course pass/fail. One of the ridiculous decisions that students and their families feel compelled to make is to imagine whether at their dream university, if it is better to get an “A” in the “regular” course or a “B” in the AP Course (or heaven forbid a “C”)! If we really want to increase equity and access to a rigorous curriculum,  take this decision out of the equation and let students take at least one AP class pass/fail.
  •  Increase participation in the AP courses through eliminating tracking. It is ridiculous in 2018 that we are still sitting around in committees evaluating students’ standardized test scores from 6th or 8th grade and making decisions that essentially eliminate them from participating in honors and AP classes. Students should not be denied by schools from taking the most rigorous curriculum available to them if they choose to opt in. Parents should ask their school boards if this is happening in their district and request that it stop.
  • Colleges need to do their part too! Instead of allowing each department to determine how and when to grant college credit, there should be a universal standard. Any student who earns a “3”, a passing score, earns at least 3 college credits in that subject area.

In my dream world, any student who completes the class and takes the test gets at least one general elective college credit even if they “fail” the test.

Every college and every department feels that the courses at the university are  superior and significantly more in-depth than a mere high school AP course, that emphasizes broad knowledge over the in-depth critical thinking that they are sure to get in every introductory class taught by every single faculty in their department.

Really? I doubt it, but  even if this is the case, they should be fair to the students and their family and give them 3 credits anyways in a general elective course. Parents need to step up and speak to the deans and provosts and regents and get them to take a look at this.

Chances are their “policy” decisions to date have been made by one really cranky department chair who is convinced that this new generation is “just not prepared.” Ask for evidence. Also, ask them why the student can’t be given elective credit in that subject area? I would imagine none of them will have a coherent answer to that. While you are at it, encourage them to not charge students for any “remedial” classes that they must take at their university!

In my opinion, one of the true benefits of the program is that it provides much needed standardization to our nation’s curriculum and assessment. It is hard to conceive of any other important aspect of our society that we have such little agreed upon standards for excellence and comparison.  Most people agree that a speedometer is helpful for measuring speed, a stock price is useful for measuring the value of the company, and a thermometer is useful for temperature. How do we measure academic success? How do we measure student learning?

Most people agree that we want doctors who are proficient in anatomy, engineers who are proficient in mathematics, and manufacturing specialists who are proficient in communication and problem solving, but we can’t even agree on what knowledge should be acquired that allows students to grow into those careers.

Not only is this lack of curriculum and assessment standardization  problematic from a policy perspective, it means that within a school, two students both taking a course in “Biology” from two different teachers are not taking the same course at all.

The AP program at least is making an attempt to address these issues through its efforts at equity, inclusion, and rigor, as well  as encouraging  the conversation towards considering some common sense standardization.

The AP testing program is far from perfect and it’s benefits have sadly not been as distributed as equitably as any educator would desire. Still, it has many merits and in my idealistic changes highlighted above, which are meant to provoke conversation and reflection, the AP program can help be a gateway towards a rigorous, equitable education system.

Now, if only the selective colleges, traditional colleges, community colleges, parents, educators, and employers could  continue the conversation towards meaningful, apolitical, rational, solutions, our students and our society will get the education we all deserve.




Straw House at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor

University of Michigan in Ann Arbor continues its dedication to sustainability and green architecture through the building of a second straw building-the first on main campus in Ann Arbor.

With work being completed mostly by students under the direction of associate professor Joe Trumpey, from the Stamps School of Art and Design, the work has an educational as well as functional purpose.

Their enthusiasm is invigorating as well-“Just knowing you can do things for yourself-I can build my own house after this, you know,” says Kristen Hayden.

The work will be an anchor to the UM farms which provides food for the dining halls and should be an inspiration to those interested in sustainability.

For Morgan Sherburne’s full article, please click here.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Besides the straw, what other features make this a sustainable design?
  2. Where did the materials for this building come from?
  3. What are some of the goals that Joe Trumpey has for this building?
  4. What other products could you use in creating a “sustainable” building?

Pop-Up Retail in Detroit- University of Michigan Students With a Plan

University of Michigan Students and the Social Impact Challenge

The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation recently announced the winners of a challenge hosted by the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business-the Social Impact Challenge.

The goal of the competition is to solve challenging real life problems in a competitive format.

The problem tackled by the winning team, quite simply was how to get more businesses into Detroit. While it is true that Detroit has been enjoying growth and improvement in this area over the past decade, any visitor to Detroit will know that there are still tremendous opportunities and challenges to operating a business there. Large areas of vacant storefronts, abandoned houses, lack of developed transportation infrastructure, low pedestrian volume as well as the economic challenges of owning and operating a business.

One of the biggest challenges for a startup or entrepreneur is leasing retail space.


The University of Michigan students, Team Upstart, presented novel ways to reduce the leasing costs and risk as well as a plan to provide extensive training and resources to the entrepreneurs to develop a small “pop-up” retail space.

The Center for Social Impact at the University of Michigan’s director, Matt Kelterborn states: ”

 “We believe the best way to learn about delivering meaningful social impact is to actually work on the ground with community leaders on projects that will have a lasting impact.”

Congratulations to all who participated in the Social Impact Challenge-a great example of using your academic knowledge to solve real world problems, one of the important themes of our work here at Wide Open Research.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What is the purpose of the Social Impact Challenge at the University of Michigan
  2. What problem was Team Upstart trying to solve?
  3. How did Team Upstart “solve” this problem?
  4. What benefits would their solution offer the residents and consumers in Detroit?
  5. Why does Matt Kelterborn think it is so important that students “actually work with community leaders?”
  6. How could you incorporate a form of the “social impact challenge” at your school?


For a link to Greta Guest’s article at University of Michigan News, please click here. 



Social Justice Advocacy in Detroit

Advocating for Social Justice

Most of us are in a hurry to avoid the harsh winter wind and snow-Wayne State University Law School graduate Lisa Walinske embraces it.

At least she did for for 25 days in December of 2017 in an effort to raise money and awareness for her organization ReDetroit East NPO, Inc- which provides free and low cost legal services for the underprivileged.

She camped out in a small shelter of scrap plywood and plastic tarp on Jefferson Avenue in Detroit, braving the cold Michigan December, sleeping in her sleeping bag.

According to the article in Wayne State University News, Lisa Walinske states:

“On the streets in the shack, I was exposed to the elements and a steady stream of people of all kinds. Some people brought gifts, donations, snacks, supplies. Some people came with their pain and shared stories of deep wounds of injustice.”

Walinske has earned over $22,000 through a Go Fund Me campaign, which surpassed her goal of $18,500.

She is leading a purpose filled life, utilizing her education to level the playing field for those that might not have the knowledge, networks, or other resources to navigate the complex legal system which often neglects their needs.

Walinske states, “I believe in standing up for justice, which sometimes means upsetting the status quo. My goal in starting the center was never to take Legal Service Corp. funds (which come with restrictions), and to bring the law back to the people — all people.”

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why did Lisa Walinske sleep in a tent for 25 days in December?
  2. How is she using her education to serve the community?
  3. Why does she think it is necessary “…to bring the law back to the people-all people?”
  4. What other ways might someone advocate for social justice?
  5. How is “justice” defined?
  6. What questions would you ask Ms. Walinske about her experience?

For a link to the article from Wayne State University news, please click here. 


Celtic Resources to Enrich St. Patrick’s Day 2018

While many folks will be spending St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S in the traditional way, listening to the Pogues and wearing funny green hats, we here at Wide Open Research prefer to take a more scholarly approach and get lost in the many wonderful Celtic resources out there.

So, first I will likely get up and listen to the Pogues perform, “If I Should Fall From Grace From God.” Then I will eat yogurt, which is not really Celtic at all, but what I usually eat for breakfast.

Then, it’s right to work.

First, I will check out the UC Berkeley, Celtic Studies Webpage, one of the most venerable programs in the U.S. This site contains a link to an interesting story about the best cities in the U.S. to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, which uses an interesting formula, as well as a brief interview with professor Daniel Melia.

Then I will linger a bit on the website and imagine that I have an abundance of time and money and can spend time in California, taking both their courses Celtic 105A, Old and Middle Irish, as well as 173, Celtic Christianity. Having neither the time, nor the money, I will simply google onward!

Why, not take a youtube break and listen to James Joyce reading from Ulysses posted by Dor Shilton.  As I am certainly no Joycean scholar; I can only appreciate this as a fan. The sound quality is quite poor, but for me it only adds to the aching beauty and melancholy, as we must concentrate to listen through the mists of time.  The cadence and tonal quality of his voice is musical, almost meditative, and best appreciated not in an effort to comprehend, but as a balm, to soothe the soul and as a reminder that language can be beauty incarnate.


While not specifically devoted to Celtic Studies, the University of Edinburgh, Celtic and Scottish Studies has a link to internet resources that should serve as a nice resource to bookmark.

Wow, I’m getting a bit tired now, so much learning, so little time! I think I shall end my wild St. Patrick’s Day celebration with a bit of Yeats, my entry point for Celtic beauty, way back in 11th grade English. I think it shall be of course, a lovely reading of When You Are Old, through the wonderful Poetry Foundation website.

“And I loved the sorrows of your changing face…”


So, how does a Wide Open Research reader integrate these themes? One of my favorite lessons from student teaching was an assignment when the students read a poem and then drew an image or scene from the poem. Their insights and acuity were wise and inspiring. I would simply say, the best way to  honor the spirit of the Celts is to honor creativity itself, especially through songs, stories, poetry, folklore, and a deep appreciation for the power of language to resonate across time, between cultures, and into the fiber of our souls.

I also am a big fan of memorizing poetry or a soliloquy-its good for the brain and for the “soul.” I think it should be a graduation requirement (along with writing at least one scholarly research paper. )

For more great poetry, check out the work of Robert Fanning. 

Please note:This post was update from a 2017 post. Thank you!


A Display Case at the Purdy-Kresge Museum at Wayne State University

I was walking up the stairs one Saturday morning looking for a book to browse at the Purdy Kresge Library at Wayne State University in Detroit and I noticed this in a display case.


beatles white album

And I couldn’t help but smile.

Not from any nostalgia or special fondness for the Beatles White Album, for which I have very little. All I remember from listening to the album in my youth in the late 70’s and early 80’s was a queasy feeling from the jarringly  disjointed batch of songs which seem to be an “album” only in the sense that they were all collected in one spot.  What happened to the poppy Beatles that I adored?

I appreciated the album more now and understand the sonic coherence that binds the album together.

But this display case struck me as the perfect appreciation for the album. A few books, a photo of the band members, each in their own little window on the page, barely a band anymore, yet still existing as something called “The Beatles” counterbalanced with a photo of the the four members still seemingly in their prime Beatlish glory.  The title cards, an assemblage of words word processed and presented not quite evenly in the window, likely hastily assembled, which mimic the impressions the songs might initially leave upon a listener (is this song finished yet?) yet which belie the true artistry the band and producers imbued in their craft even at this period in their history.

And then the CD jewel case. Small, unassuming, yet in the foreground of the display, a reminder that yes the band at its best really was about the music. But what is a CD jewel case-but itself an artifact from another time- a time of compressed sound, tiny words on a booklet that lacked any of the grandeur and heft of vinyl and its impressive graphics.  A time of repacking and re-marketing.

Yet, how fitting it all was, to be located in an upper floor of a graduate research library in Detroit, hidden behind glass, celebrating an anniversary of a band, long since broken up, whose cultural impact still continues, but maybe only for those of us old enough to choose to remember, and smile, how “the life goes on.”

The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath-Review

Chip Heath and Dan Heath have returned with another  engaging book, The Power of Moments. The question, these bestselling authors strive to answer in The Power of Moments is “Why do certain experiences have extraordinary impact?” And I would add-“and why does that matter…”

Chip and Dan Heath, brothers, business professors, writers, have written a series of books that survey research from both business and psychology to create a very engaging, easily accessible guide to living, creating and succeeding.

In The Power of Moments they strive to understand one small question, “Why do we remember certain things more than others?” This is a springboard for understanding not only how memories are formed but why these memories have such strong sway over our lives and how to use that for own own growth and development.

They identify four main attributes for a memorable experience- elevation,insight, pride, and connection. That is, an experience that taps into one of these four domains will have more longevity and resonance than one that does not.

What makes their work engaging is the breezy, accessible writing style, filled with numerous examples and anecdotes that illustrate their research (a tactic they delve into in their popular book Made to Stick-Why Some Ideas Thrive and Others Die).

As an educator, I believe most teachers and schools already create moments like this-think of graduation, honors nights, plays, concerts, athletic events-etc. As they illustrate in The Power of Moments- what if we found ways to bring more of that into the classroom in an intentional way?

Many schools do this of course, through senior speeches, creative role plays, living museums, simulations, interesting labs, etc., but it does get more challenging in light of an increasingly disengaged student population and the demands of an increasingly narrow set of outcomes. While spending several weeks on a fascinating research project may be incredibly memorable and significant to a student- we also know that it likely will not raise the student’s score on the final exam, or on the standardized test in the spring.

In a grand irony, as the employment sector clamors for a highly educated workforce of excellent communicators, subtle thinkers, rigorous analysts, profound problem solvers, and capable critical thinkers, they have thrown their lot in the most narrow set of outcomes possible- a simple data point that is easily verifiable, measurable, comparable, yet of little value. For an educator, a data point that may determine whether or not  you are employed the following year.

So, will you choose your job, or creating a memorable moment? Where is the guide to finding that elusive middle ground where both are possible?

In an effort to be fast paced and accessible, the Power of Moments picks research to support their claims and does little to highlight when that research might be limited or whether other factors might contribute to the outcomes they claim.

An example that was especially glaring for me was the highlighting of Stanton Elementary School in Washington D.C. According to the narrative established in The Power of Moments, the school had an amazing success using one of the memory creating tactics of “deepening ties” in which staff made a one hour home visit to the students families during the school year. As they tell it, this simple fact alone was enough to significantly increase parent engagement and student behavior and achievement.

Of course, they don’t mention that the school developed a brand new staff, new administration, as well as likely implemented a new curriculum, new discipline policy, and probably lost a fair amount of students through the school closure process. One wonders, is it possible that any of these other factors could have had any impact whatsoever on more parents attending conferences or on an increase in test scores? Could it be multiple factors? Could it be the novelty effect itself?

It should be noted, that although the test scores rose, it was still significantly below average, and there were still a high level of student absenteeism in the school.  Given, that the school website does not contain any current achievement data that I could locate, one wonders if the home visits continue to succeed and the school now has the highest test scores in the district? It should be noted that the principal is now leaving after seven years at the helm. One wonders how much staff has turned over in that time period as well?

The editing and precision of language ,while permissible in self-published work and blogging  fall short from a work of a major publishing house- Simon and Schuster.

For example, one entrepreneur received “countless emotional thank you’s from people saying “Couch to 5k changed their lives” (p. 161.)  “Countless” really? Also, were these emotions favorable? Anger and sadness are also emotions. Were these lives changed for the better? But precise writing, modest claims from conflicting research and clear analysis do not sell books in the voluminous ways that the Heath and their cottage industry have achieved.  Interestingly, the founder of the program mentioned above did not even invent the program for which he is recognized-alternating walking and running. This is form of locomotion is as old as human mobility itself -and even as a training method was more formally developed by running coach, Jeff Galloway in 1974 as RUN WALK RUN. I do not see Mr. Galloway’s work cited in The Power of Moments. 

Indeed, that is really the heart of this book-marketing.  How can I package this to appeal to as many people as possible? To this end, the Heath’s are utterly brilliant and I give them tremendous regard. Now that they have achieved enviable success, I wish they would turn their formidable communication skills to honestly communicate that real research is slow, full of conflicting data, and occasionally wrong; but ultimately more satisfying and significant, like human social progress itself.

Until we as educators, which the Heath’s assuredly are, acknowledge that true research is fraught with complexity, nuance, and confusing results, we are doing a disservice to our students and the general public as well.

I would recommend checking this out from the library as I did and appreciating the breezy, optimistic view of human progress, as well as a cautionary tale for the perils of superimposing a signal where there is only noise.