Are AP classes worth the weight?

Dan Bidikov, Minah Kim,, Caroline Ogulnick, and Kelly To

The AP program has been an integral part of Schreiber’s good reputation for years.  Opinions on it, however, are not unanimously positive, and its place in the school is currently under scrutiny.

Overview of the AP program

 

When the AP program was first created, it was designed for students to pursue a field that they were interested in by taking a class at an advanced level while gaining college credit. In 2009, close to three million high schoolers took one or more AP exams.  This number continues to significantly increase every year, along with the number of schools that are providing AP courses to their students.

AP classes are becoming very common in high schools, with almost a third of public schools across the country offering Advanced Placement courses in a core subject.

 

Benefits of the AP Program

 

Schreiber students can choose from 24 AP courses.  Students have the option to self study for an AP exam, which the school will order.  While the course will not be on their transcript, it can still be beneficial for college admissions for the student to send the score.

This provides a great opportunity to students who wish to gain a deeper understanding of a certain field. It may even work in favor of those who already know what they want to major in by giving them a head start in college. For students who are unsure of the path they would like to pursue in college, AP courses gives them a chance to explore a variety of topics.

“They are definitely worth it. For example, AP Psych is one of my specialties because I absolutely love it and I’m majoring in it. It shows colleges that you have a background in your major and also shows the initiative being taken,” said junior Diego Hidalgo.

Schreiber alumni have commended the Advanced Placement program for its ability to prepare them for college.

“People should take AP classes to show colleges that they are ready to take intro classes in college,” said Nina Devas (’12).

Despite the traditionally academic focus of the Advanced Placement program, it has not damaged the creative arts. The enrollment for AP Art has been massive, in and outside of Schreiber, and there has been increased turnout at cultural events such as the art shows.

“The only thing controlled by the AP art curriculum is time—and even that is pretty lenient and work can always be completed at home.  Creating 24 works in two years can be an overwhelming task, but you have been paced and allowed the freedom to embark on as inspired and ambitious pieces as you please,” said junior Joelle Feinberg.

Scoring well on several AP exams qualifies students for AP Scholar Awards. There are also other scholarship opportunities available for distinguished AP students, and the College Board reports that roughly 30% of colleges take a student’s experience with Advanced Placement courses into account when assigning scholarships.

Within the top level of a class, grade-point averages and test scores tend to be similar, leaving college admission committees at a standstill.  A student’s score on the final AP exam differentiates one from another and creates an easier admission process.  Though AP scores do not always determine acceptance or deferral from a university, a student’s score on the AP exam is taken into account by admissions.

 

Drawbacks of the AP Program

 

The expansion of the AP Program has provided students with many more opportunities, but it has not benefited every student in the same way. While one student may pass an AP exam and use his or her score when applying to college, another student may struggle within an AP course and fail the exam.

AP courses are designed to be challenging, and an overwhelming amount of students who make it to the end of a course will fail the exam.

“Teachers are so terrified of having students do poorly on their tests that they are more worried about having us finish the curriculum and be able to do the right problems than actually understanding the concepts,” said senior Ellie Zolotarev.

Recent polling showed that very few high school students who registered for AP courses did so because of intellectual interests.  AP classes are frequently used by students to increase their GPAs and enhance their transcripts that are later sent to colleges.

Although many colleges do not accept AP credits, students still take these advanced classes because participation in AP classes can show colleges that students are prepared to take on more challenging courses.

While some students may excel in the numerous AP courses that they are taking, they are in the class not due to interest in the subject, but rather as a résumé boost. Often times, students wishing to major in literature are found in an AP Biology class and others who want to work in accounting are taking an AP class on American history.

“Nowadays, because competition is so fierce, every little thing matters when it comes to getting into colleges,” said junior Annie Kim.

Schreiber has more regulations than other districts, but despite the necessity for prerequisite coursework and placement exams it is flexible with its AP program and permits students to enroll in almost any AP class that they wish.  Qualifying tests admit students into such courses, but there is a waiver form that can be filled out if one is not recommended yet would still like to be enrolled in an AP course.

“I think the qualifying exam is fair because even if they do not get in, they can waiver in.  So, the system practically gives everyone an equal chance,” said junior Sophia Kim.

The flexibility and openness of the registration often results in overcrowding of courses.  Class sizes are exploding in classes like AP Biology, which recently had to take on two sections worth of students due to the number of students selecting the course.

Potential for registration in AP courses has grown increasingly limited, but the administration has clarified that the same struggle to fit students into the courses of their choice occurs at all levels.

Whether AP courses compare to the same difficulty as college courses is often debated. Most teachers teach to the AP test, but the class dynamics vary between schools and classrooms.

“I personally think the teaching style depends on the teacher and how the student retains information.  I’m both a visual and hands on learner.  If the teacher brings both teaching methods to class, I feel like I will be set for the exam,” said Hidalgo.

“The AP course is more in depth than a typical college Intro to Psych course. Ms. Byrne can back me up on this one,” said Mr. Larry Schultz.

While almost 70% of 146 students surveyed hope to use the credit that they earn from high scores on their AP exams, many of them will be disappointed to discover that the schools of their choice do not accept credit from Advanced Placement courses.  Some schools—Northwestern and UPenn, for example—only offer credit to those who scored a 5.

Other schools, like Wesleyan University will not accept AP credit at all.  Recently, schools like Dartmouth have been turning away from granting credit to AP students.

Students planning on applying to medical schools will be in a bind if they opt out of required science courses with AP credit.

“I think the 1-5 is a good scoring range, but getting a 5 on the AP test is not equivalent to doing well in an intro course.  College courses involve a lot more reading, but AP courses did prepare me,” said Devas.

Students often feel unprepared for AP exams as there is not ample time to cover all the material on the exams. Advanced Placement exams are scheduled for May every year, a month before Port Washington schools let out. This causes teachers to ramp up the pace.

However, there has been no widespread plan to start local schools earlier or push back exam dates. Schools throughout the Northeast are at the same disadvantage as Schreiber, yet there have not been any serious complaints to the school about the end of the exam period.

“In my class, AP Physics C, I make the curriculum specifically designed to the AP exam and I teach the course quick enough so that two weeks before the exam, there is time to review. I want everyone to be able to do well and get a 5,” said physics teacher Mr. Thom Johnson.

Additionally, the growth of Advanced Placement programs has placed budgetary constraints on schools.  The administration holds steady that an Advanced Placement course can not be cut because of scores, but only size.  The strength of the AP program is limited by budget constraints. School administration frequently has to draw the line between funding more courses or supporting extra curricular activities.

“The administration is looking closely at what can be run,” said assistant principal Dr. Brad Fitzgerald.

 

Alternatives

 

Many students seek college credit as a reward from surviving their AP courses.  Few know that there exist other options for college credit.  Students enrolled in business courses can sit for the CLEP exam, and those registered for engineering have opportunities for college credit through Stony Brook University.

Alternatives to AP include the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which some districts incorporate from the elementary school years.  IB is a more personalized curriculum, as it involves personal projects and interdisciplinary themes that apply outside of the classroom.

Foreign language credit is offered through the College Advantage program at St. John’s University.  However, the credit can not effectively be transferred to other universities or programs.

Students enrolled in a research class can get credit for their efforts through the SUNY Albany University High School program.  Research credit is not very versatile and most students will not be able to take advantage of it.

Syracuse University also grants college credit through a similar high school program.  All of these AP alternatives suffer from the same issues—the credits are not easily transferrable  and lack the variety of the AP program.