AP Tests: Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

AP TESTS: THUMBS UP OR THUMBS DOWN?….I recently received a scathing email from Paul Camp, a physics professor at Spelman College, that caused me to pay more attention than I usually would to the latest AP braggadocio from the College Board. Apparently the number of students taking AP tests is up from 405,000 in 2000 to 609,000 in 2005, and the number getting a passing score on at least one test is up from 260,000 to 378,000.

This seems like good news, but Professor Camp begs to differ:

AP sucks Moon rocks.

It is the very apotheosis of “a mile wide and an inch deep.” They cover everything in the mighty Giancoli tome that sits unread on my bookshelf, all 1500 pages of it. They have seen not only Newtonian mechanics but also optics, sound, electromagnetic theory, Maxwell’s equations, special relativity, quantum mechanics and even AC circuits. They don’t understand any of it, but they’ve seen it all. They come into my class thinking, by and large, that objects move due to the force of their motion and cease moving when that force has all been used up; that tables do not prevent things from falling by exerting a force but by simply being in the way, blocking the natural motion; that when a tossed coin reaches the top of its flight, the force of gravity and the force of its motion are balanced; that opposite charges are attracted magnetically; and I could rant on for a while.

He doesn’t think much more highly of AP math, either.

Anyway, this makes me curious. I have lots of readers who teach at the high school and college level and I’m wondering what they think about this. Are AP tests (and AP classes) all they’re cracked up to be? Or are there lots of you who grit your teeth but secretly agree with my correspondent? And is this just a physics thing, or do history and lit teachers have the same complaint? Comments are open for both science-y types and liberal arts-ish types.