By Katrina Schwartz
Advanced Placement courses have long been the standard for high achievement in high school. The classes are modeled on college courses and are meant to represent the difficulty and breadth of material that students are expected to handle when they get to college. For that reason, some colleges give in-coming freshman credits or allow them to pass out of introductory courses if they score a three or above on the AP test (it’s scored from one to five).
In many schools, AP classes are more popular than ever, as students seek a leg up in the competitive college admissions process. But now, some of the most elite schools in the country are opting out of the AP frenzy, saying they can design better and more rigorous courses on their own that won’t force them to adhere to someone else’s curriculum and timeline and force teachers to teach to the test. And, instead of replicating a college level course in high school, they say they can go one better – partnering with local colleges so their students get the real deal.
“Our major complaint with the AP courses was that it was a race for breadth against depth,” explained Robert Vitalo, Head of School at Berkeley Carroll, a Brooklyn prep school that decided to completely do away with AP courses in the 2011-2012 school year. “We think the way of the world, the way to be teaching, the way that kids should be learning is to look at how subjects and questions and ideas are connected and related, and to take the time to make those connections and ask those questions and not to have it be a race to cover a lot of content."
To replace AP courses Berkeley Carroll has designed interdisciplinary courses like “The Physical Applications of Calculus,” a course that joins principles of both physics and calculus to uncover how they work together in the real world. Vitalo says they also still offer courses that can sometimes look like the AP curriculum, in that they cover similar material and concepts, but now the teachers aren’t constrained by an outside calendar and test format while they teach.
What's more, rather than relying on the College Board to be the arbiter of what qualifies as a college-level course, Berkeley Carroll makes it possible for its students to attend select classes at the Polytechnic Institute of New York to experience college offerings first hand. Vitalo says many of his students are particularly enjoying the intro to engineering class.