Alternatives to AP courses being discussed

The Board of Education (BOE) will discuss the future of Advanced Placement (AP) courses at Staples this year. According to the BOE’s goals for the year, members will begin to “review potential alternatives to, or the elimination of, AP courses.”

Board Chairperson Elaine Whitney, in an email interview, said that the board’s conversation will occur in the context of a larger goal to improve education in Westport and to push forward.

“Some high-performing districts have opted to either develop their own advanced course curricula or to adopt an alternative system,” Whitney said. For instance, in 2007, Scarsdale High School replaced AP courses with Advanced Topic (AT) classes, which give no weighted advantage to one’s GPA.

Teachers, however, said they were shocked by the news of the discussion, as most had never heard anything about it.

“I think that getting rid of AP courses would cause students more stress than they already have because students feel like they should take AP courses for college,” science teacher Maura Delaney said.

Staples High School math teacher Robin Hurlbut agrees that students might not be happy with the idea of eliminating AP courses. Students use AP classes to gain an advantage, she said. “And they thrive on the rigor of such courses. I’m worried about the college implication. If I were a student, I would be thinking about how I would be compared to another student whose school offered AP courses.”

Despite the anxiety with regard to the elimination of AP courses, some acknowledged a benefit to such a removal.

Students can feel pressured to take APs. “People think that they need to take AP courses in order to get into school,” Kelsey Bobrow ’15 said.

Nevertheless, many said they still believe in the many benefits that AP courses offer.

“I enjoy learning about all of the material, and I desire a challenge to push my limits and expand my learning skills,” Everett Sussman ’15 said. “I believe that AP courses offer a deeper level of interpretations and analysis that furthers understanding.”

At Scarsdale, some would argue that AT classes offer at least as much challenge as AP.

“The decision to provide our teachers with more flexibility and autonomy in our most rigorous courses has changed the dynamic in these classes,” Christopher Griffin, Assistant Principal at Scarsdale High School said. Instead of covering what he called “copious” content in preparation for exams, teachers can allow time for student collaboration and more research, among other changes.

Students from Scarsdale High School said they believe that the AT classes offer them a greater learning experience, far superior to that of AP courses.

“AT [classes] allow the teachers to go beyond the AP curriculum and focus on aspects they find most interesting,” Dani Cohen ’15, a student at Scarsdale High School, said. In fact, she said, most people taking AT classes still take the AP test and do well.

Whether one is in favor of AP courses or thinks that they should be abolished, everyone has questions. The answers may take a while.

According to BOE member Brett Aronow, “No substantive discussion has happened.”