(CLAIRE TOWNSEND / EYE OF THE TIGER)
AP does not always mirror college
October 29, 2018
This article is the second of a two-part series on AP curriculum.
Click here for the first article, published October 8th.
(‘As AP evolves it still has supporters, critics,’ C. Townsend).
While AP Courses are shifting with modern educational trends, altering AP tests to emphasize higher-level thinking, they continue to retain their goal of simulating and preparing students for college-level classes. In doing so, they provide students with rigorous workloads and exams to prepare them for AP tests, challenging curriculum and cover expansive content.
A part of the attraction to AP classes is the AP exam and the opportunity to receive college credit in a $95 exam, rather than paying for and attending a college course. Nevertheless, members of the college community do not necessarily encourage taking the AP path to try to skip courses in college.
Instructor of Psychology at Sierra College, Brigitte Elder, finds that more often than not, passing the AP test does not allow students to skip a class.
“We have been approached in the past by high school students who have received a three or a four on the AP Psychology Exam, and they want us to give them a test to see if they could pass out of our Introduction to Psychology class,” Elder said. “That is not a service that we provide.”
The same is not the case for every department on Sierra’s campus, but staff and students have found skipping a beginner’s class, even when possible, is not always the best choice. The college class will work off of the assumption the student is familiar with material the student has not actually learned, leaving them behind.
Former RHS student Rece Wissner, who is currently in his second year at Sierra College, finds that the writing styles in college English classes in particular differ greatly from those in AP English classes; students who did well on the AP test struggle keeping up if they don’t take the intro course.
“If you took AP courses, you could skip the first year [of core English classes], but there are a lot of people in my English 1C class right now who skipped 1A because they took AP English, and they are completely lost,” Wissner said. “We’re doing research papers… different forms of research and analytical essays that they never worked on in high school, so they’re struggling a lot.”
In addition, the workload and structure of AP courses, partly due to constraints they face to function on a high school schedule, do not line up with college courses.
According to Elder, her General Principles of Psychology class, the introductory level course at Sierra, is offered twice a week, and lasts for two hours and forty-five minutes, with a theoretical six hours of work at home, adding up to nine hours of instruction.
Because an AP class has to fit into the given school schedule with slots allotting just about an hour and twenty minutes, and including the fact that a student has this class five days a week, the structure AP courses have to follow is different than that of a college course. In class adds up to six hours a week, and with the projected one or two hours of homework each night, leaving eleven to sixteen hours a week dedicated to one AP class.
The pressure to take AP courses has led to others finding themselves in courses they do not feel ready for. Wissner tried to avoid overloading his schedule with AP, but still felt the pressure to take the advanced classes due to his peers’ opinion that they make one’s transcript appear to have an advantage.
“People told me that it would be good for college, so I would take a few,” Wissner said.
The workload of the classes, however, only made him less confident in his college prospects.
“AP courses [were] way too difficult for me, personally,” Wissner said. “Compared to CP courses, the workload was drastically different… I was like, ‘okay, this is really difficult, and I don’t know if I can do college because if it is as difficult as this, I’m going to be struggling with multiple classes exactly like this.”
Wissner began freshman year with AP courses at a different high school, as well as Pre-AP courses; after having been in college a year, he feels the latter better captures the college experience.
“Some of my classes in my previous high school were Pre-AP and those felt more like college classes do now,” Wissner said.
There are two Pre-AP courses offered in RHS’ class roster, and that is the Pre-AP route freshman can choose to take in their first year to prepare them for the rigorous AP workload. Pre-AP English and Pre-AP Geography are put in place to introduce the way in which AP classes work.
However, as the courses are not AP courses, they do not have to line up exactly with AP course guidelines, allowing them to focus on preparing students for the rigor to come.
In terms of courses at Sierra, Elder feels that the freedom to mold courses as a teacher allows her to best gear her class to her students.
“Each teacher here at Sierra College has what’s called ‘Academic Freedom,’ so they are allowed to design the course as they see fit,” Elder said. “They’re allowed to pick out whatever instruction materials they choose… to tailor the lecture time however they see fit. They can also set up their own policies when it comes to missing work.”
This does reflect AP courses in that the teachers, too, can choose to give late passes or drop a test grade.
Elder also sees greater freedom and control given to the students, creating the college expectations.
“If they miss a day of class, there is really no penalty – it’s really different to high school,” Elder said. “Theoretically, we are not allowed to grade on attendance – but we can grade on participation.”
While Professor Elder has a daughter preparing for her next year in school, Elder plans to let her daughter make the decision to take AP.
“I am going to leave that up to her,” Elder said. “To decide whether she wants to take AP classes or not. I will also leave it up to her if she wants to enroll in college classes over the summer.”
Sierra professor David Kuchera feel similar to Professor Elder in this respect, though knows the pressure will lead students to AP.
“I am biased on the subject as I think it can often be a waste of time, and also a segregation of the high school student body into high and low expectation courses,” Kuchera said. “Having said that, I have two daughters who have gone to four-year colleges and I know the GPA game that is out there for entry into competitive schools.”