High school Advanced Placement (AP) programs have taken a bit of
a hit in the media as of late, causing many parents, students and
educators to ensure that the benefits of these programs outweigh
the pressures put on participants. From limiting entrance, managing
the number of courses a child can take, or making sure kids know
exactly what they're in for, local institutions are helping kids
navigate the world of the academically talented. In this way, local
high schoolers, supported by smart institutions, are leaving school
prepared for what lies ahead.
Educating families on advanced placement
In the spring of this year, over 3.4 million AP exams were taken
by over 2 million students, according to the College Board. With so
many kids taking more than one Advanced Placement course, families
must be educated on everything involved, from workload to potential
benefits. "We complete a tangible calculation with students to help
them make the best decisions about adding AP courses," says Mary
Keenley, head of school at The Willows Academy in Des Plaines, who
advises that AP courses typically entail twice as much homework
each night as traditional classes. "If sleeping, school, homework
and activities add up to more than 24 hours each day, we've got to
go back to the coursework and eliminate something."
In addition to helping kids make good decisions, educators at The
Willows talk with parents as well, to help them understand that
this type of education is not appropriate or necessary in every
circumstance. "We try to ascertain the status that AP courses
carry," says Keenley, who adds that the elite subject matter of AP
coursework is just not for every child. The curriculum at schools
like The Willows is already preparing students for acceptance to
and the increased demands of college, and they assist families with
limiting AP coursework to situations where it makes sense.
Ensuring good fit
Advanced Placement coursework was initially developed for use in
situations where children had mastered traditional coursework and
needed an additional challenge. The perceived status of these
classes, combined with the emphasis placed on them in terms of
college admissions has caused some confusion as to which students
should be taking these courses. "Ideally, AP courses make sense for
kids who have interests and advanced abilities in the subject
matter," says Keenley. "When these kids have topped out in
traditional classes, they need the additional challenge." But there
are other times when it makes sense, too, Keenley advises. "Let's
say you have a kid that just loves history. She may not be the type
of student we would normally advise to take AP level classes, but
because of her interests, she'll have a ball in her AP European
Managing the load
For students that do decide to take on the challenge of AP
coursework, entrance to the classes is limited. At The Willows,
course admission is restricted, to ensure only those students who
should take the class are enrolled. At Latin School in Chicago,
students must petition to take more than three advanced placement
courses at the same time. Institutions like these that look at each
child and each course to determine admission on a case-by-case
basis give students the best chance for success.
Delivering the material
One major criticism of Advanced Placement coursework is that it's
very restrictive in terms of curricular freedom and creativity.
"Sometimes teachers can be handicapped by AP," says Elizabeth
Pleshette, director of college counseling at Latin School of
Chicago. "But at a place like Latin, material can be transformed by
a great teacher and excited students." Each year, Latin's educators
meet to discuss what's best for the students and the school in
terms of AP. "We ask, 'Is this (course) doing what we want it to be
doing?'" says Pleshette. "It's about having the professional
development, the resources and the autonomy to determine if courses
match up with what is appropriate to teach in your setting." When a
course makes sense for the school and students, it becomes part of
that year's curriculum.
Reaping the benefits
For students able to manage the added workload associated with AP
coursework, or those who crave deeper knowledge in a subject
matter, the benefits are numerous. While it's not necessary at many
schools, at some universities students will have a better chance of
acceptance if they've successfully taken advanced placement
coursework. At others, they may earn prerequisite credit or actual
credit hours toward graduation. According to Pleshette, in the
right situation, AP coursework can definitely ramp up kids'
expectations of the type and kind of college work to expect. "It's
not just about content; it prepares kids for the critical thinking
and workload that lies ahead," Pleshette says. "The thinking family
takes this into consideration."
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