The push for AP

Should underclassmen be encouraged to take AP courses?

Elizabeth Payton, Staff Writer

The Advanced Placement (AP) system is, without a doubt, an opportune way for students to potentially earn free college credit before they even graduate high school, and with North Kansas City Schools paying the exam fee for all students who wish to participate, it seems like there isn’t anything to lose.

Acknowledging that AP classes are college courses, many ambiguous stipulations arise as to when a student should enroll in these classes. Thus, the College Board, the company that oversees the AP system, recommends specific courses to ease the transition from a normal high school curriculum to a college credit-bearing workload, some of which are offered at Winnetonka: AP College Computer Science Principles (PLTW), AP Human Geography, AP Psychology and AP United States History.

However, with new policies in place to accommodate the growing amount of AP students over the past few years, Winneton- ka has allowed freshmen, under specific circumstances, to enroll in more difficult AP courses. Understandably, these new policies positively enhance the high school experience for students who are ready for college-level courses, but for the students who aren’t ready, these policies may do more harm than good.

According to the College Board, in a 2016 letter addressing their personal policies on underclassmen in AP, freshmen should rarely be enrolled in an AP class outside of the “few exceptions” like those mentioned earlier.

“AP courses are rarely offered in ninth grade, and exam results show that, for the most part, ninth-grade students are not sufficiently prepared to participate in a college-level course,” the letter stated. “Therefore, the College Board believes these students would be better served by course work focusing on the academic building blocks necessary for later, successful enrollment in college-level courses. Many college admission officers support this position, feeling that students should not be rushed into AP course work, but should instead develop the necessary skills and conceptual understandings in foundational courses prior to enrolling in AP.”

It should be noted, though, that the general convention is for underclassmen who wish to enroll in AP take history-based courses. These courses serve as an engaging way to introduce students to higher-level reading and abstract analysis, skills that, in other AP classes, a student is expected to already possess.

At Winnetonka this year, freshmen who scored above a certain threshold on the first cumulative district Biology exam were offered the choice of switching into AP Biology, a course with a prerequisite of both biology and chemistry according to the Career and Education Planning Guide (2019-20). Additionally, AP Biology emphasizes a statistical approach to data during some units, so understanding higher-level mathematics would also be recommended for this course- a skill few underclassmen can realistically achieve.

Freshman Cheyenne Brown, who was transferred from Honors Biology to AP Biology in early September, said while having the experience of taking an AP exam as a freshman might be useful in the future, she feels underprepared regarding the content she is expected to already know.

“I would not put freshmen in this AP class, just because it’s a lot more than just learning the stuff [content],” Brown said. “You should have a background, and at least have taken a simple Biology class to be able to move on to the full AP course. It can get stressful. Sometimes I do feel like maybe I wasn’t actually qualified to take this class just because I lack a lot of the background knowledge.

For freshmen, I feel like it’s even easier to get stressed out because you’re used to middle school work, but now, you’ve got to get familiar with all this stuff [content from regular/Honors Biology] now plus the AP course.”

Also, like many other freshmen, Brown is enrolled in AP Human Geography. Regarding that class, she said the curriculum is less-demanding and the concepts easier to grasp. And, according to previous AP Coordinator Carrie Marcantonio, freshmen are encouraged to take that course because of its purpose as “an introductory to AP.”

“There are classes specifically designed for freshman and sophomores, and that includes AP Human Geography,” Marcantonio said. “AP Human Geography is meant to be a semester class, but because we stretch it out over the year, we’re able to move a little bit slower so that younger kids who’ve never had to read that kind of dense material before can keep up with it.

We were very intentional about AP Human Geo., because it is more engaging and interesting, and all that, as opposed to starting off with AP US History, which is a little more straight-forward reading kind of history. ”

For some students, encouragement to pursue college-level classes, especially AP, a financially reasonable option, is absolutely vital to achieving their full high school potential. Likewise, “introductory” AP courses seem like an excellent way to prepare underclassmen to succeed in future college-level courses. But to expect freshmen to succeed in AP Biology, a college class designed for upperclassmen, especially considering they have no fundamental background in the subject, as per a preliminary test score, is entirely unrealistic.

The College Board concluded, in their letter mentioned earlier, it is inevitable that some underclassmen, and even those who have yet to reach high school, will be academically capable of pursuing advanced classes, but the educators must make case-by-case decisions regarding each desired AP class.

“In deciding when to offer college-level course work to any student, educators should carefully review the curricular and resource requirements for each AP course, and consider whether a student has received the appropriate academic preparation,” the letter stated. “AP courses require students to apply advanced critical thinking and analytical skills that are typical of comparable college-level courses. This guiding AP enrollment policy holds true for all AP courses and exams, regardless of the grade level in which a school or district decides to offer AP course work.”

Whether this push to move freshmen into AP Biology was an anomaly or a preliminary indication of a much larger problem, this system used to encourage a student to take a course they, statistically and logistically, aren’t ready for may just be blatantly setting them up for failure.

However, with the outcome of this decision has yet to be seen, there is no final say on whether these students will benefit from the situation or not, and the long-term impact may not be known for years.