Eye of the Tiger

AP courses adapt to changes

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Science, social science
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BY JOSHUA SOLSO
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Over the past year, Advanced Placement enrollment continued to grow, curriculum changed and AP teachers adjusted to teaching new sections. In many cases, these factors led to shifts in student enrollment and success with AP exam.

This is a look at those AP classes that were most affected by AP growth and change.
European History

The 2014-15 exam scores experienced an increase in the AP European History class, with 59 students passing last year as opposed to just 47 the year before.

“Our AP Euro students did very well on the test last year,” Crabtree said. “And that was the first class of students I received who had been through the Pre-AP classes. You never know what classes are different and circumstances are different, but I do know that was one important piece.”

With 112 students enrolled in AP Euro last year, Crabtree tried to focus on maintaining and increasing AP scores, while teaching the large number of students.

“I do think it speaks volumes that we have such large classes,” Crabtree said. “The ultimate goal is to make sure you have a nice percentage of students passing every year, and that your scores stay high, even as you expand and invite more students in.”

The exam and curriculum moves to emulate AP US History’s for the 2015-16 year. Crabtree must now adapt her classroom environment and teaching methods to align with the College Board’s new standards.

“It’s always a little nerve-wracking teaching to a new test,” Crabtree said. “It’s almost the same nervousness that I had when I was first teaching the class.”

US History

According to AP US History teacher Jessica Fork, her first year of teaching APUSH in 2013-14 helped her map out her 2014-15 teaching methods.
She credits this with the six-percent increase in APUSH exam pass rates.

“My scores went up last year because now that I know what the test is focusing on, it’s easier to get that information to the kids,” Fork said.
Fork’s first year was a “hybrid” of efforts in her teaching environment.

“I was trying to get ready for what the test was going to look like, but I still had to teach the old test,” Fork said. “I had to build everything. My second year I didn’t have to build everything from scratch, and now this year I don’t even have to do as much work with that anymore.”

Fork gained her first class of Pre-AP students this year, and anticipates a jump in test scores.

“I expect every year from now to see my scores going up more,” Fork said. “I’m going to have the Pre-AP kids, this is the first year. I have a lot of them back that were in AP Euro as well.”

Physics

Mike Purvines especially felt the challenge of unfamiliar curriculum while picking up AP Physics in 2014.

“This was a new class for me altogether and getting relevant information that followed the course was extremely difficult,” Purvines said. “The material is much more integrated thinking than it is just plugging numbers into formulas.”

Purvines said that he did as much as he could to try and follow the course curriculum and make AP Physics a worthwhile class, and the smaller class size gave him the advantage.

Pass rates for the exam increased by 13 percent when Purvines took over the section.

Senior Monique Rea particularly liked the way that Purvines conducted the class and developed the classroom environment.

“It was a fun class, it was challenging at times, but Purvines is really good with helping people out on things,” Rea said.

Government

AP United States Government and Politics also saw the effects of increased course enrollment and adjusted curriculum.

The number of students who took the AP exam nearly doubled, from 28 in the 2014 testing season to 55 in 2015.

While students earned a greater number of 3s on the exam in May, they also earned a greater number of 2s than in the year prior.

AP Government teacher Dana Dooley thinks that larger class size and more total students helped fuel this growth in number of exam-takers. She found that while she maintained three sections of the course in both years, in 2015, her classes felt fuller.

In 2015, her students in her sections numbered in the mid-to-high 30s, whereas in the year prior, they reached the mid-20s.

Dooley found that after her first year teaching AP Gov, she could refine the curriculum she delivers.

“When, of course, that first year of AP test data came in, it was very validating,” Dooley said. “I was like, ‘Okay, I am teaching AP-level content in a way that’s sticking.”

During the 2014-15 school year, Dooley implemented a greater emphasis on multiple choice strategies, in addition to FRQ- and Common Core-based ones, as well as an Issue Project, wherein students theorize government solutions to real-world issues.

“It creates a lot purpose and an emotional buy-in for the class,” Dooley said. “Whenever people have an emotional experience with content, they are significantly more able to retain it and apply it.”

Biology

Last year was the first year that RHS offered AP Biology. Just nine of the 69 students enrolled in the class took the exam, and six passed.

Many students choosing to not take the exam felt unprepared. However, AP Bio teacher Darcee Durham plans on greatly improving the course from last year.

“I have a good outlook of the year,” Durham said. “I have reformatted the class and have gained experience. I now know what to do and what not to do this year.”

Environmental Science

In 2015, 44 students attempted the AP Environmental Science Exam, whereas the year before the attempted number was only 18 students.

Addington believes this could be attributed to the difference of teaching styles between him and former RHS science teacher Alex Uribe.

As with Purvines and Durham, Addington also feels great coming into the new school year after getting a feel for teaching the course for the first time.

“It was a little challenging teaching the class last year, because it was all new material for me,” Addington said. “It will be better this year because I have an idea of what to do after experimenting with the new material last year.”

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