I looked at the AP exam a while back. I found it to be, like so many AP exams,too much trivia and minutia for my tastes. I am all for a clever well written exam, such exams can be a wonderful teaching tool, but it can be taken to extreme. Plus we are making the same mistake we made with pascal, choosing a language for pedagogy rather than practical application.
I myself was taught FORTRAN when I was 14 in a one year high school course. The first grading period we solved problems, wrote algorithms, learned the vagaries of pre-pc computing, and learned to behave. Then we spent the rest of year learning FORTRAN, complete with coding sheets I picked up at the university bookstore.
This included recursion, and we used the only reasonable example one can give a high school student. The Fibonacci series. I assume that everyone has coded this by the time they 18. Like the swap function.
It is not so much that there are not simple and meaningful things kids can code to learn the proper technique. It is just that most of these are already part of the library, so kids are going to balk or copy or just not do it. For instance it would be great for kids to learn linear algebra by coding it, but how we can justify it when the row reduction is already part of most libraries.
Here is a little bit of AP trivia. In AP Physics they want kids to collect data and practice a least squares fit by hand. They note that computers do this now, but it is good experience. It is like AP CS. The kids are not being trained in basics, so they really don't know how anything really works. CS should be a craft, physics should be a process, but it is not always being taught that way.