It came as a relief to many stressed students when, on June 18th, 2018, administrators from several D.C. independent schools sent a letter to The Washington Post, revealing how their schools were planning to eliminate Advanced Placement (AP) classes by 2020. One of these administrators was our own Head of School, Russell Shaw, paving the way to minimize the import of standardized tests at GDS.
This decision is a smart move for GDS as the school continues to grow physically and intellectually. AP classes have been holding students and faculty back by putting too much emphasis on adhering to an inflexible curriculum, a system which curtails independent thinking and neglects students who may need extra time to digest the material. Phasing out AP classes—and, by extension, AP exams—is a step in the right direction for furthering academic excellence and educational innovation.
By discontinuing AP classes, the school hopes to foster more educational curiosity in the classroom. Shaw believes that, by getting rid of APs, “we are moving toward what we believe will be a richer [and] more engaging curriculum for our student body”
Shaw also would like to encourage teachers to explore their educational passions with students. “We believe that our faculty has a depth of expertise that allows them to create learning opportunities that are more tailored to both their passions and those of GDS students,” Shaw said. “We want to liberate them to do that.”
AP classes tend to focus on breadth and not depth, usually employing memorization-based curricula. The quality of education and a love of learning can easily get lost in the classroom as students cram for test after test in preparation for the dreaded AP exam that awaits them in the spring.
“Our mission calls us to foster a lifelong love of learning in students,” Shaw points out. Thus, if GDS is to stay true to our mission, then we should not support something that diminishes educational excitement.
Junior Oliver Satola remarked that phasing out AP classes “fits with the GDS message.” Satola pointed out that “we can still have difficult, advanced classes that gives students a chance to push themselves the same way they would in AP classes.”
Many students worry that a lack of AP classes will hurt them in the college process when they are compared to students from schools that offer AP classes. When asked about the downsides of removing AP classes, Shaw explained that GDS does not want students to take courses they’re not interested in just because they believe they will be impressive on a college application.
GDS met with other schools in the area to discuss this decision, and Shaw said that “by being able to collectively sound out colleges, we were able to collect responses that were really helpful to us and, in fact, nearly unanimously, colleges were either neutral or enthusiastic” about GDS’s decision to eliminate AP classes.
Satola agreed saying, “If all private schools in the D.C. area are on the same page, it makes for an even playing field.”
Shaw also noted that he is not worried about the potential impact that this decision would have on admissions to the GDS high school.
“In the last six years our high school applications have doubled,” he said. “There is huge demand for this high school. The reason for this is not AP scores.”
GDS is a place committed to integrity, social justice, and academic excellence. Ridding ourselves of AP classes will allow us to become more in touch with our message and focus on growing intellectually.
By: Ilana Zeilinger