The AP Conundrum

I am teaching AP Statistics this year, and, in general, really like it. I have a science background as much as a math background, so statistics is very appealing to me, and I honestly do believe that it is more important and useful than calculus for many, many people. Plus, I think it’s fun!

My conundrum is with the AP curriculum itself. Y’all, it is so. packed.

I am sitting in the room right now watching my students taking a chapter test that covers 1-proportion Z-tests, 1-sample T-tests for the mean, and (most difficultly) the interpretation of all of the various points and numbers that come up in the process of taking those tests. This test will probably have an average (raw) score in the 65% range, though I do curve it (as the AP test itself is curved).

We had five class days to work on this chapter. 400 minutes of class. This isn’t nothing, of course, but it simply. isn’t. enough. to explore these in a way that helps them really grok what’s going on. And slowing down is not really a viable choice if we want them to have a chance of getting the questions that come up from chapters 10, 11, and 12.

So they muddle through. They learn trigger words that remind them which calculator command to use where, and they memorize phrases like “We are 95% confident that…[this thing] is not [that thing]” and they cram, cram, cram. I have excellent students who work very hard, and none of them are in danger of failing the class, but they aren’t enjoying it. And, perhaps worse, most of them won’t remember it or apply it.

Part of that is me – this is my first year teaching it, so I muddle about quite a bit, usually don’t figure out the best way to explain things and frankly I don’t think I did a great job in the first couple of chapters setting up the overall meaning of statistics and really hammering the concepts when the numbers were easy. That would have made the interpretation parts simpler now. Next year will be better.

And part of it is the weird position AP stat takes at our school (and many others, I tihnk) – it’s the “easy” AP math, right? Well, sort of. It’s definitely not hard in the same way that AP Calculus is, but it is PLENTY hard. Doing well on the tests requires a higher level of logical thinking and explanation skills than calculus, but it doesn’t require the same level of comfort with numbers and formulas (though it requires some!) So it’s easier for some people, but not all. However, the rest of my department doesn’t necessarily understand that, and our recommendation process doesn’t really know how to screen for who will be ready for the class, so I have several who, simply, aren’t.

But a big part of it is the AP curriculum itself. We are required to submit a syllabus that includes projects, but mine was/is thoroughly shoehorned in and non-rigorous, because there simply isn’t TIME. We’re not going to get through the last chapter as it is! And that is sad. If there is any class that is ripe for project-based-learning, it is statistics, but there is simply no possible way  to do it that way with any primacy inside the AP curriculum. There’s too much on the test.

AP Physics B used to have a similar problem, and the AP committee, bless them, eventually split it into two years to allow for more exploration and depth. I don’t think that’s necessary for AP Stat, I think we just need to cut some things. I’m not sure what we could cut – that’s not really my decision – but as it is, there is too much to do in one year, even with extremely intelligent, hardworking students with great mathematical backgrounds. I don’t want to go shallower, I want to deeper with less.

I think I will find a way to compromise, for this year. I can look through the last two chapters, write up a summary and sample questions that hits the absolute basics of them for the test – basically, intentionally go very shallow on those, expecting that students will miss some of the harder questions on those topics – and then spend time looking deeper at our earlier chapters. It might result in the same test scores, and may revitalize my faith in the curriculum.

Does anybody else have this problem? Suggestions on how to get some depth of understanding without compromising their test scores?


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