Shooting for the Stars (And a 5)

By Erica Ladler (Editor-in-Chief).

If your schedule isn’t packed with a gleaming row of AP’s, you had better have some post high school plans lined up that don’t involve college.

At least, that’s how some students might feel at Sharon High School, which offers 16 AP classes and boasts an AP participation rate of 59% among its students. Teachers must abide by a set of national guidelines in preparing lessons for these demanding courses, which are meant to prepare students for the AP tests in May.

“You should take an AP when you’re interested in it, because you want the advanced learning experience, [because] you want to submerge yourself in the topic at an accelerated pace,” said Sharon High School English teacher Ms. Jolicoeur. “It’s generally assumed when people take an AP class that they already have significant skills to balance and negotiate content.”

Jolicoeur adds that she thinks all AP students should take the test in May, though it’s not mandatory. “I think that helps keep the integrity of the course as well; knowing people are all building to the same culminating activity builds camaraderie amongst students,” she said.

SHS Senior Sam Shikora was not expecting AP European History to be his favorite class, but he has come to love the dynamic. “It’s a tiny class, it’s very quiet, we actually learn things, and the tests are easy,” said Shikora. “[Ms. Beebe’s] fair. She’s really funny, too – she makes fun of us constantly.”

After having enrolled in AP Physics, Biology, and Chemistry at some point during his high school career, one senior says the Physics course was the most difficult. “It was hard because there’s a ton more work, sometimes five hours a night. All the labs were very time-consuming and specific. You had to understand everything to make a lab – don’t do this, don’t do that,” he said.

But though he felt he was “drowning all the time” in Physics, he found the rest of his AP classes fairly reasonable. “You just plan your work out…I honestly loved APUSH. I don’t like history but I liked Mr. Banno,” he said.

Juniors commonly take AP US History, commonly referred to as “APUSH,” to delve into an in-depth study of the country’s past and present through class lectures, extensive readings, and opinion-based journal assignments. Mr. Banno and Ms. Malcolm have taught the course for years.

In 2015, 64% of Mr. Banno’s and Ms. Malcolm’s students scored a 4 or above on the APUSH test, as compared to just 29.6% of students in the country. Many other SHS AP classes produce similarly well-prepared students, including AB Calculus (95% of students scored a 4 or 5 in 2015), BC Calculus (93%), English Lit (86%), AP Chemistry (93%), and AP Statistics (66%).

French teacher Ms. Turner says teaching an AP class means giving less direct instruction and expecting students to learn more of the material at home.

AP language teachers don’t need to base their teaching on a specific list of items like other AP teachers do, but their lessons must touch upon on a set of themes in some way.

“In some ways [not being tied to specific themes] is good, because I can choose to teach what interests me and my class…but it’s also a game of roulette,” Ms. Turner said. “[It’s best to give] the most exposure possible – hoping students will read, write, and speak efficiently on the test on a variety of topics.”

Junior Melodie Darya says she cannot easily explain why she intends to take AP Psychology next year. “It’s really a combination [of reasons]. People I’ve talked to have liked it, and colleges like it, and a lot of people I know plan to take it,” said Darya. “But I’m expecting it to be hard, because it’s an AP.”

However, Senior Sai Allu says he finds some AP classes have less required work than other classes, because teachers emphasize general understanding rather than the completion of an abundance of worksheets.

“For example, in my AP computer science class, there is less assigned homework and more recommended material, so it’s up to the student to decide whether they have ten hours of homework a week or two,” said Allu. “[AP classes] offer a different learning experience and…are more rewarding for students because the classes – as they’re intended to – help students to experience what college feels like.”

Initially, high schools instituted AP classes across the country as a means for students to gather college credit if they earned a 3 or above – out of 5 – on the AP test. However, today many of the same colleges that expect to see AP courses on students’ transcripts will refuse to give them credit for the classes after admission.

Ms. Turner says she supports the elimination of all AP classes as a means for “some very smart teachers with very interesting backgrounds…to respond to student interests and their own interests in a way that does not correspond to national guidelines.”

However, she says choosing to get rid of certain AP’s and keeping others would create unnecessary competition among departments.

Arya says eliminating AP’s would prove mainly detrimental.

“Having a lot of AP’s and IB’s are really good for the school (both for ranking and education],” she said.

But according to Ms. Turner, selective colleges would not penalize students if SHS eliminated its AP classes, because colleges can only expect students to take the highest-level classes the school has to offer.

“The college board has made AP tests such an integral part of high school that it’s a web you can hardly break out of. [If you want to try,] you have to say ‘I don’t care about ranking; I want to give students the best education possible,’” said Turner.

After having enrolled in AP Psychology, AP Statistics, and AP Computer Science this year as well as AP Physics last year, Senior Michael Simons says he will likely have the most trouble with Psych: “It’s just taking notes and that’s all you can get points for – tests, and that’s it.”

He adds that he’s annoyed colleges often refuse hard-earned AP credit. “Almost all the colleges I’m applying to won’t accept even a 5 on physics because [they say], ‘our class is different so you’re going to have to take it again,’” said Simons.

Senior Jack Eberhardt says that while most AP classes tend to be challenging, he finds the reading-based ones, like AP Government or AP Biology, to be hardest of all. “You have to put in a lot more effort,” he said. “You have to read a chapter 20 pages long and then you have to teach yourself.”

But Eberhardt adds that the extensive work ethic expected of AP students should not deter kids from taking the courses. “It’s worth it. You just have to push through,” he said.

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