The AP Debate

“How many APs are you taking?” As course selection comes to a close at Georgetown Day School, students are often asking this question around the halls of school. According to the College Board, 2.5 million United States students took Advanced Placement exams in 2015. Advanced Placement (AP) is a program run by the College Board that allows students to take courses in high school that can earn them college credit and qualify them for more advanced classes when they begin college. Each AP course culminates in a standardized exam. But, why exactly are APs a controversial topic within the GDS community?
Not everybody in the GDS community is in favor of AP classes. Martin Bullock, a teacher in the science department, explained that, “at a school like GDS, where we have highly motivated students and really highly motivated and capable teachers…we shouldn’t be wasting our time with standardized courses.”

Evan Smith, head of the language department, added, “how am I supposed to have a progressive class if the syllabus is already set for me from the very beginning? It doesn’t matter what student is sitting in front of me. I simply am there as outercourse teaching.”

Smith continued that, “if we’re a school that is about progressive education, the College Board is an intrusive entity. They make the test, they write the test, they tell us what’s important for us to know…that doesn’t take into account the students…and that to me, seems to be bad course design.”

Bullock suggested that APs may soon be removed from the GDS curriculum, remarking that,“there are plenty of dissenting voices among the teachers that make it feel like we could be headed away from APs.”

However, the move away from APs wouldn’t be easy. Junior Avery Adomaitis expressed that “most of the pressure [to take APs] doesn’t come from the school, it comes from the students…and also from parents.”

History teacher Sue Ikenberry disagrees with the notion that GDS should get rid of APs: “I’ve been here for a long time and this argument has been raging and raging and raging,” Ikenberry said. “I think with the current crop of parents you’re not going to see a change.”

One reason that many people at GDS are pro-AP is because of the standardization of the course. Particularly, Ikenberry likes how APs control what goes on in a classroom. “Everybody knows what we’re doing, so when you come away from the course that one of us taught, and you have a good grade, you have a good grade in a known quantity,” Ikenberry explained.

Other members of the GDS community, like sophomore Alan Goldfarb, enjoy AP classes not for the standardization, but for the actual course content. Goldfarb explained that “AP classes and AP testing are a good way to accelerate students who want to go beyond the standard high school curriculum.”

Many high school students are motivated to take AP classes and exams to help with college admissions as well as college credits. However, Goldfarb “didn’t really have college in mind” when he chose to take AP Chemistry and AP Spanish as a sophomore. “I chose my [AP] Chemistry class because I genuinely wanted the extra challenge,” he remarked.

On the topic of college admissions, Bullock added that “I think our students would benefit more from taking classes that are unique to GDS, because that gives you something that separates you from everybody else in the country who’s applying to the same schools as you.”

On the other hand, Theo Schmidt, a sophomore who has taken five APs said, “personally AP classes are beneficial for me, but I don’t believe they should be instated.” Schmidt agreed with Bullock in the sense that APs do not differentiate students that much from others. “There’s not much depth to each subject,” he said, “And it’s taught towards examination. [Classes] are less fitted to each student, and they can also create pressure for students who wouldn’t usually take hard classes to take [AP classes], just for the sake of taking them.”  

To deconstruct these college-based initiatives to take AP courses, Smith pointed out that “in the past 10 years [colleges] are granting less and less AP credit.”

This debate about whether APs are beneficial to GDS is nothing new. “The faculty talk about it every year, and there [are] plenty of teachers who are sick of talking about it,” Bullock explained.

“Our conversation about APs right now is in a holding pattern,” Smith accurately remarked; the push and pull over the AP argument at GDS has stagnated any major changes in the high school in the recent past. For the time being, both Adomaitis and Goldfarb impart the same advice to students deciding on which courses to take. Adomaitis advised, “take classes that you are actually interested in.”

By: Ilana Zeilinger and Shira Minsk

(The Augur Bit would like to apologize for misprinting the authors’ names on the print edition of the May 2017 edition!)