Princeton High School considers transition from Advanced Placement to Advanced Topics classes

graphic by Jackie Girouard

graphic by Jackie Girouard

On October 28, seven teachers and four administrators from PHS went to Scarsdale High School to consider the possible measures and effects of removing AP courses from the PHS curriculum. The main goal of this pending transition is to look at the implementation of more creative teaching by deviating from the traditional AP curriculum run by the College Board.

Starting in 2008, SHS removed AP classes from its curriculum and replaced them with classes known as “Advanced Topics.” Looking to SHS as an example, PHS teachers and staff met with fellow educators to learn more about the transition to this model.

The idea of moving toward an advanced topic class was circulating around PHS prior to talking with Scarsdale. It began with discussion in the social studies department involving faculty members as well as former supervisor of social studies, John Anagbo.

Due to the show of interest in this transition from AP classes, PHS teachers spoke with SHS staff to learn about the educational opportunities these classes would provide in comparison to the traditional AP classes.

One of the attractive features [of the Advanced Topics model] is that it de-emphasizes the test, and it essentially says, instead of the College Board creating this curriculum that we should follow, we trust that we have excellent teachers who have particular areas of expertise, and we can design a curriculum that is more tailored to the skills students need when they go to college,” said Mark Shelley, supervisor of the PHS humanities department.  

According to Andrea Spalla, president of the Board of Education, in the event that the Board moves toward this Advanced Topics model, these new courses would be developed by PHS instructors and would continue to enable students to take the AP exam.

If the PHS faculty and administrators decide to move towards an Advanced Topics model, these new courses would be developed by our faculty and supervisors to be superior to what the AP course model offers. And no matter what, PHS students would still be well-prepared to do well on the AP exams if they chose to take them,” wrote Spalla in an email.

Despite support from some members of the administration, other PHS staff and students are not convinced that removing AP classes would still allow them to be prepared for the AP exam.

“My real worry is that if we go to an ‘AP free system,’ the students are still going to take the AP [exam], and I’m still going to have the expectation of teaching them to the AP exam which is still going to be in May. They are going to have to learn more on their own, which I think will be even worse,” said chemistry teacher Dr. Robert Corell.

“If [the district] takes away AP classes and they make us take the AP [exam] on our own, that’s going to take away a lot of our time to have to self study the material that we are not taught in class, which will lower our actual grades in school and lower our AP test scores,” said Daniel Shahab Diaz ’19.

SHS implemented the AT class system over 5 years ago.

“The first year was very much what we are doing now, which is just having discussions. The second year was doing a lot of things like specific outreach to colleges, bringing in professors to work with teachers, having conversations within and among departments at the school, and things like doing focus groups with parents and students. Then, if it goes forward, Scarsdale did a three-year rollout, and they did it by department,” Shelley said.

The term “rollout,” as described by Shelley, would mean making the new advanced topic models available to students for the first time, beginning with individual departments or a set amount of departments.

As the schoo-lwide discussion continues, a few teachers have shown their opposition to this possible change in the curriculum.  

“I disagree with the ideas of removing APs. First of all, the AP exam is a benefit. It gives the student the chance to look at a higher level course and … the opportunity to experience a college level of difficulty and pace,” Corell said.

In order to combat the problem of stress, Corell suggests that a shift to the start and end of the school year can have an impact on how time throughout the year is used wisely.

“The AP system is tied to the 80 percent of the country that starts classes before Labor Day. So we’re already three to five weeks behind. We could spread the amount of work and therefore, the load on a weekly or nightly basis would not be as intense as it right now.”

Likewise, students have displayed similar sentiments toward time use in the school year.

“You have to think about the fact that the [AP exam] is in May and that means for the very end of the year, we’re not doing anything. If we were able to push the test back to early June, I’d think that would be the best option. In the current situation, we really want the best for our students, and that would be keeping the APs,” said Josh Spergel ’19.

As PHS staff continue to discuss this new idea, additional research, preparation, and outreach will need to be conducted before any permanent actions are to be taken.

“There was a rumor that we were going to pilot [advanced topic courses] next year—there’s not going to be a pilot next year. One thing we heard from Scarsdale very clearly was, we need to do much more background legwork before any type of pilot would happen,” Shelley said.

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