New Curriculum Means More than just Moving on from APs

In mid-January, in addition to announcing changes to the format of the school’s schedule, the administration announced changes to the classes that would be offered to students. Every year there are slight differences to the course offerings, and new courses are continuously being developed and introduced. But this year was a little different, because it marked the induction of a course catalogue without most Advanced Placement (AP) courses. 

Some departments, like languages and arts, will still offer APs until 2022. But the science department has done away with APs entirely. In their place are Upper Level (UL) classes, which denote, as Assistant Principal for Academics Chris Levy said, “classes that will really stretch kids.” 

The ultimate goal of UL classes is to preserve rigor while allowing teachers more autonomy in crafting their own curricula. Not all the effects of APs will be alleviated with these changes. AP’s currently create a culture of pressure – the instinct to take the most difficult course load possible, even if it doesn’t align with personal interests or wellness. It’s a facet of student life that has been recognized and dissected countless times in school-wide conversations. And it’s not likely to disappear as the UL designation replaces the AP designation. In fact, as extended and honors levels begin to be denoted on student transcripts next year, it’s possible that self-imposed student stress will even be heightened.

What is likely to change, however, is the diversity and imagination of the classes that will be offered. And that’s where the real benefits of abolishing the APs and implementing more electives lie. Senior Abby Murphy, who is a head of the GDS Academic Committee, explained that the committee has met with Jenni Ruiz in the College Counseling Office, “specifically about the schedule for next year and how to make it worth getting rid of APs.” 

Teachers, department heads and administrators have new ideas, including a greater selection of English electives, opportunities to learn outside the classroom and a more intense focus on providing interdisciplinary classes. In addition to classes like UL Statistics or Enviro,“you’re going to see more creativity,” Levy assured, and already it feels like that creativity is being realized. The 2020-2021 school year will see classes in 3D modeling, philosophy and literature, and international relations.

Niche interests are now realized in fully developed curricula that are more centered around engaging passion than demonstrating rigor. Despite GDS’s continuous attempts to combat it, the AP culture has always been a part of the collective student psyche. These next few years mark the firmest step away from that mentality made in years, and, as Murphy noted, “I think that always comes with change, people being scared.” But this shift in the course offerings represents an opportunity to shift the academic culture at GDS – if students are willing to take it. 

Alissa Simon ’21