What to Know
- The schools’ decision follows the national trend of private and some public schools moving away from structured AP courses.
- In the class of 2017, more than 1.17 million students took 3.98 million AP exams in public schools.
- Some schools have a system in place that allows rigorous, hands-on courses to affect a student’s GPA the same way an AP course would.
Leaders of some of Washington, D.C.'s top private schools announced this week they are eliminating advanced placement classes by 2022, drawing attention to the “diminished utility” of the courses in a joint statement.
Instead, the schools plan to offer classes geared toward “collaborative, experiential and interdisciplinary learning,” according to the statement, which also explained students feel pressured to take the courses to improve their chances of being admitted to college.
The schools’ decision follows the national trend of private and some public schools moving away from structured AP courses in favor of comparable hands-on, project-based coursework, education officials said. It also comes at a time when some public schools in large cities are working to increase the number of AP classes offered to students.
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“It’s hot right now to [stop offering AP classes],” said Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education who has studied the benefit of AP classes for students. “...At these independent schools, the quality of teaching is not going to change. The level of challenge may even go up.”
AP courses are designed to be rigorous and comparable to college classes, according to the College Board, the organization that oversees the AP program. Students take an exam at the end of the year and can earn college credit depending on their scores.
School leaders at Georgetown Day, Holton-Arms, Landon, Maret, National Cathedral, Potomac, St. Albans and Sidwell Friends in Washington on Monday highlighted a common criticism of AP classes: teachers sacrifice in-depth lessons to ensure they cover all of the material that can potentially appear on the test.
The freedom that comes without the pressure of an AP or International Baccalaureate program produces the best learning outcome for students, Pope said. Some students enrolled in AP courses might not read on a college level, which results in kids “not always passing at the rate they should be,” she said.
Still, students are actively enrolling in AP classes. In the class of 2017, more than 1.17 million students took 3.98 million AP exams in public schools, the College Board said.
Eighty-two percent of private colleges said in a recent survey that AP courses are “extremely or very helpful” when reviewing a students’ application, prompting the College Board to call the schools’ decisions surprising.
“Over the past decade, the students at just these DC-area independent schools have earned more than 39,000 credit hours at the colleges to which they sent their AP scores,” College Board said in an email to NBC. “At a time when the placement, credit, and admission benefits of AP have never been greater, it’s surprising that these schools would choose to deny their students these advantages.”
The decision to stop offering AP courses won’t negatively affect high school students’ applications, Greg Roberts, the University of Virginia’s Dean of Admission, told NBC.
High schools send colleges an academic profile that helps admission counselors understand grading scales and identify the most challenging courses a school offers. Students are evaluated in the context of their own schools, Roberts said.
Some schools have a system in place that allows hands-on courses to affect a student’s GPA the same way an AP course would, Pope said. For the University of California, for example, schools can complete a waiver describing the class and asking for it to impact a student’s GPA in a similar way.
“This is not something shocking or entirely new,” Roberts said of schools doing away with AP classes. “It’s not something that in any way should concern families or students as they approach the college admission process with the familiarity and comfort they’re used to.”
In New York City, the AP for All campaign aims to give every high school student access to AP courses. At least four AP courses are offered at every “traditional” public Washington, D.C., high school. Nonetheless, Pope anticipates more public schools will begin to eliminate AP and IB curriculums.
“We’ve yet to see it come to fruition, where it’s eliminated completely,” Pope said. “It’s on the horizon for these public schools.”