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Turning up the Pressure on AP Courses

Photo courtesy of SXC
Photo courtesy of SXC

Emily Cooper ’11
Business Manager

Photo courtesy of SXC

Five to Eight students in an average-sized class of 22, an anonymous, Staples High School social studies teacher, feels are not prepared to handle the difficulty or workload of her Advanced Placement course. That means that up to 25 percent may not belong in the advanced level.

This teacher feels that having many unprepared students in the class takes away from the learning environment in that their confusion unnecessarily slows down the pace of the class for the students who are prepared.

Why students feel compelled to take more APs than they can handle or are interested in puzzles this teacher.

“There are absolutely students in my AP class that are not interested in the subject matter; the class must be awful for them since we cover so much history,” she said.

So what motivates students to sign up for numerous AP classes if not interest in the subject matter?

Deborah Slocum, Staples High School guidance counselor, feels that pressure to get into colleges and boost one’s GPA causes students to take more APs than they should.

“I definitely think that less pressure from colleges would mean students would take fewer AP courses,” said Slocum.

Chenchen Feng ’11, who will have taken eight Advanced Placement courses by the time she graduates from Staples High School, nine if Multivariable Calculus BC is included, agrees.

“If there wasn’t as high of a pressure to get a good GPA, I would probably still be taking the same math and science APs, (AP Calculus BC, AP Physics C and AP Biology) but I would definitely take more English and Social Studies electives.”

The system of Advanced Placement classes is changing. While AP classes were once intended for those who desired a challenge in a subject matter that they particularly excelled in, APs have now become standard for many students graduating Staples.

For example, by ranking Staples High School as a silver medal school, U.S. News considers the AP participation rate, 53.7 percent. This represents the number of seniors who took at least one AP course while in high school.

While a majority of students do enroll in AP courses, not all of them remain in them for the entire year.

The anonymous teacher finds that commonly, students override her recommendation so that they can enter AP classes. But, she has also noticed that approximately five students drop out of her classes each year.Therefore, students uninterested or unprepared do not always remain in her AP class.

Slocum also feels that taking an AP course for which a person is not interested must be miserable, since one is not fascinated by the subject matter, and therefore probably finds the workload overwhelming.

“A person should take an AP course when they’re interested in the class and looking for a challenge, not for any other reason,” cautions Slocum.

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