The College Board is in the process of revising its curriculum for Advanced Placement classes
How will these changes affect you?
By Frances HoekstraStaff writer
“We need to cover a lot of material because the test covers a lot of material, and you have to cover it quickly,” said AP Physics teacher Sam Terfa. “You can’t spend a lot of time and you can’t get in depth on certain topics because they’re interesting. You have to just keep moving around, and it becomes a very plow-forward kind of science instead of experimental, discovery science.”
This is something that Terfa doesn’t like about the AP Physics course, but he’s not the only one who feels this way. AP teachers all over the United States face the problem of having vast amounts of material to cover with severely limited time to get through it all.
It is a problem that many AP students and teachers agree needs to be fixed, and in response to these criticisms and requests the College Board has recently decided to revise the AP program in an effort to narrow down topics while still preparing students for advanced college courses.
These revisions are in place to begin during the 2011-2012 school year, starting with AP Biology and AP U.S. History, and will continue over the next four or five years.
When the AP program first began in 1955, its initial goal was to provide college-level “intro” classes for high school students. This made it possible for students to earn college credit by scoring well on the end-of-the-year standardized test.
However, critics argue that time has caught up with the program and with it comes a change in effects. As time has gone by, new concepts and discoveries have expanded parts of the program to points where it is nearly impossible to learn all the information, such as in AP Biology, which started as a 36-chapter, 870 page textbook and now has 56 chapters and 1,400 pages.
While the program started as an introduction to college level courses, College Board leaders acknowledge that it has now developed into something more like a race to cram facts into students’ brains before the AP exam in May.
When AP courses get turned into a race against the clock instead of an in-depth analysis of important concepts, what gets lost? Certainly some concepts can’t be covered as thoroughly as students and teachers want.
“Sometimes when we’re going through it in class she won’t go into it in detail, but if you ask her a question about it she’ll always make sure to explain it to you more in-depth,” said sophomore AP Biology student Elise Marcotte about her teacher, Carmella Whaley.
Depth is another thing that can get lost. Teachers are happy to explain concepts to you as long as it happens outside of class, because they have material that they absolutely need to get through.
“I’ve come in before school and asked her to explain a couple things,” said Marcotte. “Sometimes it does feel a little cramped, but I don’t really ever complain about it because I know there’s a certain amount of material we have to get through, and we have to go at this pace to get through it before the test.”
Whaley’s students understand this, but Whaley herself has mixed emotions.
“What I like is the broad range of topics because students get to learn about biology from the molecular and cellular level all the way to the level of the ecosystem,” said Whaley, “but that’s exactly the thing that I don’t like about it, because there’s so much to cover in a year’s time.”
Whaley isn’t the only teacher who sometimes has trouble fitting in all the material. AP Calculus teacher Richard Enderton holds Zero Hour every Monday morning from 7:40 to 8:30. Zero Hour is treated like a real class; if students skip it they aren’t penalized directly but they will miss out on brand new information and won’t know the material necessary for the class.
Zero Hour is necessary because without it the AP Calculus students wouldn’t be able to get through all the material they need to before the test in May.
A final concern stemming from this whirlwind of facts could also be a passion for learning. One of the reasons students take AP courses is to challenge themselves to think in a way that they wouldn’t have before about the topics that interest them.
Unfortunately, when all that’s going through students’ minds is memorizing facts for the exam, teachers fear that the students are missing the big picture and losing the passion to learn. These are all things that the College Board is hoping to change.
“This will be easier for students to work with, and I do support the changes,” said AP Micro and Macroeconomics teacher David Hoffner.
There are a few major goals of the AP revision. One is to design a curriculum, with the help of AP teachers, that serves the needs of students as well as possible. Another new goal is to make the connection between the revised courses–and the new exams that will go along with them–very clear to both students and teachers.
While these are new to the program, two goals of the revision are the same as when the program began: to prepare students for advanced college courses and to shine a light on the best practices of the AP teachers.
The AP revision will have an effect on some Minnehaha students, but not all. Current seniors will not be affected at all because the new courses and exams won’t even begin to be released until next year. The students who will feel the effect next year are the future AP World History students, with the revised exam coming out in 2012. The new exams being released in 2013 that will have an effect on Minnehaha students are the AP Biology and AP U.S. History.
In 2014 the new exams will be AP European History and AP Physics, and in 2015 a new AP Chemistry exam will be given and also a new AP World History test. Minnehaha principal Nancy Johnson is already fully prepared for the changes Minnehaha AP teachers will face.
“Our teachers continuously seek out professional development in the AP area and frequently take summer workshops on that,” said Johnson. “The focus of those will shift to the revised courses, and the skeletal outlines for the courses are already online so teachers have already seen those.”
This training costs money, but the costs are already taken care of. Minnehaha has access to public funding called Title II, which is tax money granted to the school for the professional development of teachers.
Though the changes that are being made to the AP program are designed to make teaching and learning in these classes more beneficial and enjoyable, it doesn’t mean that these classes aren’t a good experience currently.
“The students are great!” said AP Spanish teacher Anne Calvin. “It’s very fun to teach students that all want to be there and are dedicated and work hard. It’s just fun; it’s a fun group of kids to teach.”