AP: for the Best or for the Test?

Although there have been many debates within our school, the debate over whether our school should offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses has been one of the longest and hard-fought ones. This idea was put to the test this year when our school introduced AP courses to the curriculum.

Colleges and universities were both influences on the addition of AP classes at our school. Mr. Matthew Dempsey, our assistant principal, said, “We had been talking about it for four or five years, and just reviewing our policies and procedures and trying to move towards what works best. We had been doing a bunch of research on how colleges select students, and one of the things that we discovered was that colleges are not only scoring students based on whether or not they take AP courses but the schools on whether or not they offer them.   

“We realized that we would be doing all of our students a favor, whether or not they are taking AP courses just by offering those classes,” said Mr. Dempsey. “Also, we have been teaching at the AP level all along in many courses. But, putting the AP label on those courses helps out the students more while applying to colleges.”

Another main reason our school added AP courses was to help students prepare for AP tests. Senior Nathan Liu has taken full advantage of the AP curriculum. He is currently taking AP English, AP Government, AP Calculus, and AP Physics. Liu also took four AP tests last year before our school had inducted the AP curriculum. He said, “I don’t think that our teachers are fully teaching the AP courses in the sense that AP courses teach the test. When it comes down to it, the AP courses have a specific schedule and syllabus, and they are very picky in terms of open response questions and showing work on a problem. My teachers taught to the AP standard, but we never managed to finish all the material that was required. But, any student looking to score well should be studying on their own for their AP tests. AP is akin to the ACT or SAT in that way. We learn most of the material but having the test down is up to the student.”  

Although AP classes have helped students advance their education, there are some drawbacks. Mr. Spencer teaches AP United States History and AP Government, as well as a few non-AP courses. He said, “Before, I always tried to teach as much as I could have, but with AP, you teach for the AP test. This year I have had to move past things that I like to go more in-depth because they aren’t covered on the AP test. One thing that’s different from my old curriculum is that there isn’t diversity of ability in the classroom. Last year, I had two national merit scholar kids in the same class as kids that were at the bottom of their class. I think that it’s good to have a higher level of thinking in a class where you have kids who aren’t at that level. It pulls them deeper into the discussion, whereas a lot of the time it seems to me that the kids who aren’t in the AP classes aren’t engaged as they are with more academic students.”

One of the initial pullbacks to adding AP courses was the fear of making some students feel inferior to students taking advanced classes. Mr. Dempsey said, “One of the things we made sure not to do was to split the school into AP and non-AP. The way we implemented AP at our school was that we don’t weigh those AP classes. If we had weighted them, students would think they had to take AP classes just because they wanted to have a high class rank. Students should take honors or AP classes because they want to, not purely because they want to work their way to the top of their class. One of the great attributes of our school is the cohesion of our student body. That may sound like a marketing line, but we think that’s a reason we have 600 people coming to our alumni dinners, and it’s a reason why people talk about brotherhood here and mean it.”

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