School to Stop Offering AP Courses

Students requesting their courses next year will find something missing in their options: Advancement Placement (AP) classes. Faculty overwhelmingly voted to remove AP designated courses from the curriculum last November, and the School recently announced that this will be implemented in the next academic year. Removing the AP designation means that Choate will not have to adhere to the College Board guidelines for the AP program. Some former AP courses will continue to follow the AP curriculum; however, other classes will be restructured according to the discretion of faculty. In addition, Choate will still offer AP exams in May for students who desire to take them.

In an email sent out to students and parents, Director of Curricular Initiatives Dr. Katie Jewett, wrote, “Over the last several years, we have had many conversations in our community about the role of Advanced Placement courses in our curriculum.” She added, “These conversations stemmed initially from a sentiment expressed by Choate students that AP courses were not serving their needs optimally and that their teachers of current AP courses could do a better job if freed from the limits of the AP Program.”

The removal of AP courses intentionally coincides with the daily schedule change. Dr. Jewett explained, “While memorizing content remains essential to the learning process, teaching skills is beginning to play a greater role. Moreover, recent advances in the field of teaching and learning suggest that the most effective pedagogies are active and learner-centered. Some of the more content-heavy AP courses run counter to this trend and do not lend themselves to the pedagogical directions we are pursuing with our new schedule.”

One concern about removing AP classes is how it will look to colleges. Ms. Roxanne Higgins from Independent School Management came to Choate to speak in part about why she recommends against AP courses. Higgins had quoted the Director of Admissions at Harvard: “We look at whether the applicant has taken the high school’s most demanding courses. But whether the classes are designated as AP is irrelevant. Abolishing AP classes won’t hurt the kids.”

The movement away from APs officially began in the spring of 2015. Advisory groups held informal discussions about academic and extracurricular opportunities and graduation requirements. Though advisers did not ask any specific questions about AP courses, many groups debated their overall effectiveness.

In winter of 2016, Choate underwent a curriculum review. As part of this process, faculty discussed the effectiveness of AP courses. That January, two-thirds of the surveyed AP teachers said they “would prefer to be free to create courses that may or may not include aspects of AP curricula.” In February, 30 faculty members went on a two-day Curriculum Review Retreat, and a committee of seven then spent the spring term writing a strategic plan for the entire curriculum using points from those discussions. The committee recommended that “Choate’s curriculum continue to monitor and be informed by the AP program without being constrained by it.”

Ms. Amy Salot, an AP U.S. History teacher, said, “It will be nice not to be tied to the AP exams as tightly as we feel right now. In our honors sections of U.S. History next year, the students will still be prepared for the AP exam, but the teachers will be more free to structure the course themselves. I think that will serve our students better.”

Mr. Jake Dellorco, an AP Calculus AB teacher, said, “In my opinion, removing the AP designation will grant teachers and students much more flexibility. We will be able to spend time doing interesting projects and labs because curricula won’t be tied to AP curricula. Students will still be challenged, but I think the hope is that the learning and material covered will be more meaningful.”

Though most faculty are in favor of the decision, students have mixed feelings. James Rose ’18 said, “Although I agree with the idea that removing the AP designation from courses will lead to greater freedom in teaching a wider range of material, I would have liked a heads-up a little earlier in the process. The AP designation was something I took into account in building my schedule for my last two years at Choate, so finding out that the courses I’d intended to take at AP level to gain college credit for will no longer fully prepare me for the tests changes my plans a lot.”

Ellie Latham ’18 said, “I’m worried by the general trend of moving away from honors and AP designated courses. We’ve been told the level of difficulty will stay the same, but I have a hard time believing that’s what will happen in practice.”

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