Test Stress: To AP Or Not To AP

Students at St. Luke’s may be all-too familiar with a certain type of education: Advanced Placement classes. Currently, SLS offers over 15 APs, ranging from those in the STEM to those in the humanities. Taken at the beginning of May, AP tests are a trademark of the College Board, the same organization that manages the SAT and SAT Subject Tests. Countless high school students across the United States have the opportunity to take AP classes, giving them the ability to demonstrate their aptitude in a certain course. While some colleges allow students to become exempt from certain requirements if they submit their AP scores, many schools demand scores of 4 or 5 (on a scale of 1-5) in order for students to meet the requirement and others don’t give any credit for the tests.

In our modern day world of high-pressure and competitive education, APs have become yet another way for students to boost their transcripts. Most of the students who enroll in APs attend public high schools, some of which offer many more AP classes than others. Since the AP curriculum is extremely similar at most schools, this allows colleges the opportunity to compare students from different high schools and backgrounds, mostly by looking at the results of their AP test.

At SLS, we have the privilege and ability to choose from a wide range of AP, honors, and regular classes, based on our skill level and our desire to challenge ourselves academically. Though most other private schools like SLS have historically offered APs, many are beginning to move in a different direction. Independent schools across the nation are making the decision to get rid of AP classes. Many are instead choosing to offer students rigorous courses that are not affiliated with the College Board. By doing this, they are able to give their teachers free reign in determining what material to focus on and how to structure their classes. In addition, it would eliminate the pressure on teachers to teach to the test and stress of making up class time when interruptions in the schedule occur.

Six years ago (the year before Ms. Perry joined the SLS faculty as Head of the Upper School), Mr. Davis asked a group of faculty to research the benefits and downfalls of the AP curriculum. The team spent a year gathering information for the report, and ultimately concluded that keeping the AP program would be beneficial. Prior to my meeting with her, Ms. Perry took the time to read this report. She mentioned that, at the time the report was written, it seemed as though there were mixed feelings among AP teachers about the value of the AP program. Yet, this was also around the time that the College Board had announced that they were going to make changes to AP classes, specifically by shifting the curriculum from one that is memorization and fact based to one that is more ideological and intellectual. Curriculums like those of AP United States History changed dramatically during this time. In addition, offering APs is one of the qualities of SLS that makes our school appealing and competitive, and there is certainly anxiety that getting rid of AP classes would “put us out of the loop,” Perry noted.

In many respects, AP classes are a simulation of the college experience, and APs are often seen as an indication of whether a school is academically rigorous. Still, Ms. Perry noted that that one of the many gifts of an independent school is the fact that it is independent, and thus the faculty has the ability to design a unique curriculum that best fits the student body and their interests. While the AP program does not allow for much creativity, teachers certainly do find ways to adapt the curriculum to their own strengths and interests. It seems as though AP classes are here to stay, but SLS faculty will continue to assess their value as the school evolves.

World News Editor, Georgia Rosenberg

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