To Mr. Levinson: End the AP Era at Pingry

By Aneesh Karuppur (VI)

 

Some time back, I wrote a commentary regarding AP-designation courses at Pingry, and how Pingry ought to consider phasing them out. Given the events of the past few weeks, I would like to update that message: I feel that it is now imprudent for Pingry to offer AP Courses, and I hope that this transition occurs as soon as possible. 

This might seem like a bit of a dramatic change––I admit that perhaps my last commentary was less vicious towards the College Board. However, the coronavirus has exposed some of the concerns that before, we could only hypothesize about. Our current situation demonstrates that the College Board is ineffective, unnecessary, and has been abusing its monopolistic status over testing. 

Colleges and universities have begun showing the same attitudes towards the College Board’s standardized test products. Almost every school will be test-optional for the upcoming admissions season, if they were not already. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced in March that it would refuse to consider SAT Subject Tests outright for future admissions seasons as well. As colleges emphasize “holistic admissions” and considering “the whole person,” it’s clear that traditional exam-based metrics are being relegated to first-round screening of applicants rather than acting as deciding factors. 

 I agree wholeheartedly with those decisions. I have forgotten much of the material that I crammed for my AP World History exam last year; meanwhile, the information that I learned in Pingry’s World History 9 and 10 classes still stays with me. I have no appreciation for AP exams other than the fact that colleges take them as proof of introductory-level course completion. In fact, I feel animosity towards the College Board for their insistence that the exams demonstrate understanding rather than memorization; I have found that their exams are based around limited interpretations and memorized facts, despite their pretensions. 

The coronavirus has only demonstrated how embarrassingly pointless College Board’s exams, particularly the APs, have become. The shortened 45-minute exams include a maximum of two questions, with many exams only having one single essay question. In addition, not only do this year’s exam exclude large chunks of material due to their truncated nature, but the College Board has axed the final few units from the accompanying AP Courses. Classes that strictly follow those courses learn less and still demonstrate only a fraction of that knowledge on the exam. 

The College Board insists that they have worked with colleges to consider these new AP Exams as course credit, but I am extremely doubtful of that. Take the AP Physics Mechanics exam: why should any college consider a two-question exam that covers probably half of the learned units, not to mention the complete removal of orbital and simple harmonic motion, as equivalent to a full year of introductory physics? In any case, the normal AP Courses are not at the level of rigor as a college course––how could a truncated version carry any semblance of the same value? The College Board refuses to answer these questions properly or honestly.

Moreover, the College Board has done a less-than-satisfactory job of administering the online exams. Countless students––including many at Pingry––have watched their exams refuse to submit through the AP testing system. Beyond that, the College Board sent out a broken makeup test link; after outrage online, they fixed it, but didn’t bother to update anyone or even apologize. Meanwhile, they’ve been posting tone-deaf Tweets about catching cheaters, while upstanding students are left to wait several weeks just to learn whether they’re eligible for the makeup exam. And, despite the fact that the exam is a quarter of the length that it was before, College Board is charging full price ($94) and will take longer to grade the exams than normal. 

All of this stems from the fact that College Board’s AP is essentially unchallenged in the market for class-based, subject-specific standardized tests. Its only competitor is the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Most schools offer either one or the other; few offer both, meaning that most students don’t have a choice as to which advanced courses they can take. Their quasi-monopoly over such schools has allowed them to offer lower-quality products while remaining unchallenged, as it’s very difficult for a school to suddenly switch from AP to IB. While the IB program has cancelled their exams, the AP system forged ahead in their revolutionary product of mismanagement and terrible user experience. 

As a final note, Pingry doesn’t benefit from boasting about the number of AP courses or exams it offers. Pingry’s curriculum highly restricts when and which AP Courses students can take. For example, all students must take the Biology-Chemistry sequence in the first two years, while other schools (including public schools) allow students to take AP Chemistry or AP Biology much earlier. Pingry doesn’t offer AP World History, AP Environmental Science, AP Human Geography, AP Research, or AP Seminar courses; for the latter two, I can’t recall a single Pingry student who has taken those exams. Thus, since Pingry already does not fully conform to the AP program, we should be able to do away with AP Courses with few qualms. If teachers can design curricula that have real-world value, rather than dedicate time to an increasingly obsolete test, all members of the community will benefit. The AP Exams can be offered as independent signups for those students who wish to take them. 

The College Board has nothing to lose by remaining aloof and ignorant of students’ and teachers’ frustrations. I hope that Pingry can join other independent schools in abandoning the AP for good. 

In Wake of Civil Rights Protests, Pingry Community Shares Experiences of Racism and Discrimination

In Wake of Civil Rights Protests, Pingry Community Shares Experiences of Racism and Discrimination

By Aneesh Karuppur (V)

 

In late May, the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota policemen triggered a mass movement across the nation (and eventually the world) in support of Black Lives Matter.

 

The Record previously detailed some of the earlier impacts that this multifaceted movement has had on the Pingry community. Pingry’s leadership has affirmed its support of Black Lives Matter and of minority students. Furthermore, Pingry students have taken action by petitioning, protesting, and consistently spreading awareness. 

 

The focus on our nation’s problems has also thrown issues surrounding race and identity within the Pingry community into sharp relief. To this end, an anonymous account known as Black at Pingry (@blackatpingry) was created. Modeled after similar accounts at other private preparatory schools (including Dalton, Lawrenceville, Exeter, Andover, Choate, and Newark Academy, among many others), this Instagram account provided an outlet for Black students to anonymously expose some of the discrimination and issues they’ve face. Within several days, the platform began highlighting instances of racism and unfairness towards other people of color, and has since expanded to include all minorities (religious and racial).

 

The first post on the account appeared on June 11, 2020, a week after Pingry’s Finals Week concluded. Posts are added regularly; as of June 27, just over two weeks after the first post, there are 80 explanations, descriptions, and expressions of frustration. The account has 1,776 followers, and it has achieved widespread recognition among Pingry students, parents and alumni on Instagram. 

 

We at The Record encourage readers to view the extent to which both ignorance and prejudice has penetrated the Pingry community by viewing the posts on the @blackatpingry page. Incidents include use of the n-word both inside and outside of class by teachers and students; ignorance about non-European civilizations, cultures, and history; various microaggressions, including unsavory remarks about wealth, intelligence, and cleanliness; and taunting behaviors based on cruel stereotypes of racial and religious groups. These pervade through speech and action (in some cases, inaction is the most poignant) and demonstrate that Pingry’s commitment to true diversity and inclusion has not fully succeeded in correcting some of the troubling behaviors. 

 

Regarding the account, one student said: “@blackatpingry opened my eyes to a side of Pingry that, before, I only vaguely knew from second-hand information. It was jarring to learn the specifics, but I think it’s precisely the kind of wake-up call that our community needs.”

 

In response to these powerful posts, the school released a brief letter from Head of School Mr. Matt Levinson. Some students expressed disappointment that it had taken so long for the Pingry administration to respond to the emotional strength required to tell the stories on the @blackatpingry page. Once again, we encourage readers to view the full statement on Pingry’s social media channels (Instagram: @thepingryschool). Mr. Levinson exhorted the community to read the @blackatpingry page, and said that “unless and until we are willing to acknowledge these experiences, take responsibility for our past and present, and commit to the work of creating a better Pingry for our students of color, the stories of pain will never end.” Mr. Levinson ended his message by expressing a school commitment to active anti-racism and an effort to decrease the burden on the backs of students of color at Pingry, especially Black students. 

 

After this public commitment, Mr. Levinson sent out an email to the Pingry community on June 24 to announce two events, both called “BECAUSE WE CARE.” The first, on Thursday, June 25, was for students who identified as Black; the second, on Friday, June 26, was for the caregivers of those students. These discussions were intended to foster “ongoing, honest, and open dialogue” and begin a continuous conversation about diversity and inclusion. On June 26, Mr. Levinson released an action plan for treating the ills of discrimination and racism in the Pingry community, and explained that incoming Director of Diversity and Inclusion Mr. Gilberto Olvera would be the point person for these initiatives. The plan calls for an anti-racism task force, engagement of the school community, a more inclusive and multicultural curriculum, faculty and staff training, better human resource management, and a progress check. 

 

The Pingry community will anxiously await the administration’s more concrete actions on such issues, and some members have expressed concern over certain directives. According to one student of color, “I find it concerning that Mr. Levinson makes diversity sound like it only includes one perspective, the general ‘people of color.’ Within people of color, there are so many nuanced interactions that Mr. Levinson has made quite clear he is unaware of, and has no interest in learning about, given the exclusive wording of his emails.” 

 

Another student of color voiced a different opinion on the decisions: “It’s a little bit disappointing, but expected given previous actions, that Mr. Levinson only chose to address racism directed towards [black members] as opposed to the racism which affects various other groups at Pingry. At the same time, I understand his position of leadership is a very difficult one to be in, and no matter how he responds, it is inevitable that people will pick out the flaws in his response based on their own perspectives and interests. Nonetheless, the detail that he provides in his email reflects a promising and focused commitment to anti-racism, and I hope we can see these plans manifest into measurable change.”

 

The @blackatpingry Instagram account has had an outsized impact in bringing to greater light the issues that people of color and minorities face at Pingry. The Pingry community ought to look forward to an equitable future for all; we will see how administrative and community decisions work towards such a future. 

Why Pingry Needs to Remove AP Courses

Why Pingry Needs to Remove AP Courses

By Aneesh Karuppur (V)

A few weeks ago, I got to participate in my first Pingry Career Day; I found it to be just what I expected. The alumni were engaging, knowledgeable, and insightful, and my only complaint was that I didn’t get to spend enough time with them. Overall, it was a great experience.

But, as I left each room, I thought about the speakers’ thoughts on college education and the value of Pingry. Most said they did not learn the knowledge they use on a daily basis in college or at Pingry, but instead entirely on the job. To these speakers, their college education was more of a logic exercise than a specific skill-set. 

Of course, this heavily depends on the line of work one goes into. Somebody interested in researching computer science would obviously find it beneficial to study computer science in college, while somebody planning to work in an oil field would find a chemical engineering major useful as well. Though, in the panels I attended—entrepreneurship, medicine, and management consulting—only a few of the speakers had degrees that specifically related to their fields. 

The skills that were oft-cited by my speakers were logic, communication, and problem solving. While a college education can help develop these skills, they are learned through practice rather than lectures.

This made me think about the value of Pingry’s curriculum in a modern workforce from a student’s perspective. The number of fields that rely on technology to do the bulk of the work and calculations is already high and constantly increasing. The understanding of a process has become more important than simply memorizing the result. So, is the typical Pingry class supportive of that goal?

The answer is complicated and depends on who you ask. The College Board would probably wax and wane on how useful its AP Exams are, but given its insistence that the SAT is a meaningful predictor of student competence, I take it with a grain of salt. I took the AP World History exam last year, and I found that simply memorizing all the events and dates is much more helpful for the exam than understanding why something happened. If I had never taken World History 9 or 10, I would probably have an exceedingly shallow knowledge of World History based on the exam. My AP Calculus BC exam featured problems about counting the number of plankton in water; if a real ecologist was studying those organisms, I would hope they weren’t using vague estimation methods like the ones the AP asked me to use.

But does this formulaic learning extend to Pingry’s AP courses themselves? Some, perhaps, more than others. While AP Calculus BC is definitely a well-taught and engaging class, the curriculum is tied to the AP course schedule, which means the course can’t go into as much depth as I might have liked. In AP Physics this year, we glossed over some in-depth analyses of topics like rotation and air resistance because of the number of topics that need to be covered for the AP Mechanics exam. This is in no way the fault of the teachers; it’s just that the AP tends to reward specific application of knowledge (that often has little real-world significance) rather than sound logic, good communication, and problem solving skills that one might actually use in a job.

Pingry’s courses are meant to prepare students for specializing in college, but I often feel as if those courses ought to be more organic and less tied down. 

Here’s a radical solution: get rid of AP-designation courses. Numerous independent schools have eliminated AP courses entirely, and I don’t think it’s too revolutionary for Pingry to follow suit. Pingry prides itself on letting teachers develop their own curriculum. Non-AP classes, such as Biology II Honors, tend to include case studies and real-world projects, while AP United States History has to speed through Reconstruction to get to the 1920s by March. 

Pingry teachers could have much more control over their lesson plans and replace tests with papers, essays, and projects (as I discussed in my last opinion here). Pingry can still host AP exams for students who want to demonstrate their aptitude for colleges; it just shouldn’t have to teach to the test. 

I don’t expect Pingry to drop all AP courses tomorrow and replace them with totally faculty-and student-driven ideas. However, I hope that Pingry takes note of the changing world and skillsets and ultimately realizes that the College Board’s outdated conceptions might not be sufficient anymore.