Why Some Local Schools Dropped AP Classes

Student stress over AP test scores was one reason.

Many high schools brag about the number of Advanced Placement courses they offer, but, in recent years, a few schools have gone the opposite direction and dropped AP classes altogether.

AP courses allow students to experience the rigor of college-level courses and demonstrate to college-admissions committees that the applicant is able to excel in such classes. Students can also earn college credit if they score well on the AP tests based on the courses, which can save families thousands in tuition.
The number of high schools that offer AP courses grew steadily after they were introduced in the 1950s but not all schools continue to expand their AP offerings.

The Haverford School in Haverford, PA and Westtown School in West Chester, PA, dropped AP courses in 2005; The Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, PA stopped AP instruction 2010.

‘It’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid’

“It makes it really hard to be a student,” Westtown director of college counseling Jessica Smith says. “You feel like you have to take all these tests and score really well, but what’s far more important is how you do in school. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid and taking away that AP designation takes off some pressure.”

Laura Blankenship, assistant head of school at Baldwin, says AP courses aren’t the best way for students to learn or prepare for college-level academics.

“As an educator, you can see that a lot of the AP courses are very focused on memorizing facts and spitting them back out on tests,” Blankenship says. “Some are about applying knowledge, but increasingly what you need in college, and beyond, is the ability to have a deeper understanding.”

The pushback against AP is not just in this region. Eight independent schools in the Washington, DC area announced over the summer that they would drop the courses from their curriculums by 2022. Their objection is that AP courses value a high intake of information over a deeper understanding of the topics, all so that students can get a good grade on a test.

College Board defends AP classes

Still, more than 20,000 schools keep AP in their curriculum and the College Board, which created the Advanced Placement program, defended it after the announcement by the Washington DC schools.

“Over the past decade, the students at these independent schools have taken over 8,800 AP exams and potentially earned more than 11,700 credit hours at the colleges to which they sent their AP scores, equating to at least $5 million in tuition savings for families,” says Maria Alcon-Heraux, director of media relations for College Board.

AP exams are also a crucial indicator for how a student will perform in college, she says.

“Research consistently shows that students who earn a 3 or higher on AP exams earn higher GPAs in college, get a head start in their majors, are likely able to graduate in 4 years and have higher graduation rates,” Alcon-Heraux says.

Some schools, like The Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, NJ, have dropped the AP label but still offer courses that prepare students to take the AP tests.

“Parents and kids were counting numbers of APs that they were taking,” says David Laws, dean of academics at Lawrenceville. “Removing the designation took a lot of pressure off. ”

Colleges want to see that a student challenged himself, regardless of what the class is called..

“They want to see that students are taking the most rigorous courses that they can be successful in,” says Laws.

Ben Lowenthal is a MetroKids intern and student at Temple University.

Categories: Secondary Education