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The Campus Lantern

Understanding the value of AP classes

Part two of a series about AP classes
Griffy Whitman
Students learn in their AP BC Calculus class.

Within the past few years, several independent schools surrounding SCH, like the Haverford School, GFS, and Penn Charter, have done away with the College Board’s Advanced Placement classes, replacing them with their own advanced or accelerated courses.

The schools’ general idea, as Penn Charter frames it on their website, is that “the AP Program FAILS to Support [their] Vision, Mission, and Goals,” and that they “can do better.”

SCH, on the other hand, still offers AP classes. 115 students at SCH signed up to take an AP in the 2024-2025 school year, and 73 of those students signed up to take more than one. Clearly APs are a large part of academics in our upper school, but the question remains: are they the best way for students in the most rigorous courses to learn the most challenging content?

Mr. Stein, the chair of SCH’s science department and longtime teacher of AP and honors biology “would say yes. At least in the sciences, [an AP class] forces you to move at an appropriate pace. And schools that stopped offering APs… they found that their teachers just didn’t keep up with the same momentum that they needed to.”

Because AP classes, in all subjects, are created and standardized by the College Board, teachers throughout the country need to cover all of the content that will be on the culminating exams. In some cases, that can be “the good part,” said Mr. Stein, because having to get through that much material “does get you more in line with the rate at which you need to do stuff in colleges.”

In his AP Biology class, however, Mr. Stein deviates from the standard AP curriculum. “Some teachers follow the sequence that the College Board suggests. I do my own thing…. Since I’m experienced teaching it and all of our teachers are experienced, I think we’re able to add new things that students really enjoy and prepare them well for college.” Mr. Stein emphasized that he often “[likes] to go into more depth” than the College Board’s curriculum does on its own.

“I don’t like playing the AP game. I don’t think for any educational thing, the end result should be performance on some outside standardized test (the AP exams). But they’re a necessary evil for college admissions,” the science department-head commented.

True, in the complicated college admissions process it is important for students to show that they’ve challenged themselves by taking rigorous courses, with AP classes often seen as the most rigorous. College counselor Mr. Walter, though, clarified that colleges have a “school profile that tells them all of the classes offered.” It’s all about “the context of your school,” he said, adding that theoretically no one at a school without APs would be “compared to a school where kids take nine or ten.”

Even still, Mr. Walter admitted that “the risk of removing the AP label,” like some schools have done, “is that the person reading [the application] at whatever college isn’t willing to look beyond that label.”

What Mrs. McDowell, the chair of SCH’s history department, dislikes about the “AP mystique,” as she called it, is that “it’s considered a better, or more rigorous way of learning” than other classes.

She said that “some people really like learning a lot of facts,” as they would in an AP history class, “and that’s their learning style. Other people really like delving in and doing projects and doing discussions, and those are two different ways of learning. And one is not better than another….” The unfortunate piece, though, is that generally there is no room in the standard AP history curriculums for things like projects and discussions.

Mrs. McDowell noted that she “really [likes]” how SCH offers AP Gov (AP US Government and Politics), because it’s a one semester course that we stretch into a full year, giving the class more time for simulations and other non-AP activities. Mr. Stein shared the same sentiment about the AP Physics course at SCH, which, like AP Gov, could be taught in a semester but is given the full year.

SCH’s current AP Spanish 5 teacher, Ms. Dionne, said that in her AP class, she is actually very flexible when it comes to grading. “Instead of giving just ones, twos, threes, fours, or fives [on assignments],” like the AP exams do, “I give myself the flexibility to give like a 4.25, a 4.50, or a 4.75. Because the reality is, the AP test is graded by a whole panel of people, and I’m only one person.”

Ms. Dionne also reflected on the AP system as a whole: “I think if students are invested in the topic and the teacher is invested in being creative with the curriculum, while maintaining the integrity of the College Board’s standards, it can be a really positive experience…. I think it’s rewarding. Yeah, it has its flaws, of course, but I think it’s a rewarding experience for both teacher and student in general.”

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About the Contributor
Griffy Whitman
Griffy Whitman, Inaugural Editor-in-Chief
Griffy is a junior at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and he revived The Campus Lantern last year. He loves lacrosse and writing, so you can usually find him either on the field or interviewing someone for a story. Outside of school, he loves to play with his dog, Wesley.
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