At a November school board work session, PSHS Principal Sean O'Donnell reported on an exciting new development in the high school's ongoing efforts to academically challenge its advanced learners and college-bound students. Next school year, the high school will kickoff the Advanced Placement® (AP) Program to offer students rigorous introductory college-level courses.
At the end of the AP course, students may choose to take a standardized college-level assessment (AP exam). Most four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. grant students college credit or advanced placement for qualifying AP Exam scores. Basically, good AP Exam scores can save college-bound students time and money because they may be able to skip introductory or required general-education courses and fulfill graduation requirements early.
For those students who are serious about continuing their education, enrolling in an AP course can signal college admissions that they're willing to challenge themselves with rigorous coursework. Plus, an AP course may help them prepare for the more intense workload and higher performance expectations at the college level.
"An AP course is just like another class, but is has a different, more challenging curriculum," explains O'Donnell. "Students will use different textbooks. Expectations are a lot higher. The pace of learning will move a lot faster. There's a lot more homework, more requirements, more writing."
The AP Program, developed and managed by the College Board, offers 38 AP courses in seven subject categories. The courses and exams are designed by committees of college faculty and experienced AP teachers who make sure that content and course syllabi meet the expectations (the disciplinary practices and learning objectives) at the college level.
High schools that want to offer approved AP courses must be authorized by the AP Course Audit in order to use the AP designation. Those who teach AP courses can design their own syllabi, but they must adhere to AP Program guidelines to ensure that their course meets the standards determined by the College Board for college-level instruction.
"By introducing AP courses, we will be able to offer a formalized program with vetted curriculum that is recognized nationally," comments O'Donnell. "We are always trying to encourage our students to achieve at the highest levels they can, and with the AP program, we now have a formalized, recognized way of ensuring that our students are challenged in the same way that other students across the nation are being challenged."
Although for most teachers of AP courses, there are no formal or mandatory professional development requirements, this past summer PSHS sent seven teachers to Denver for an introduction to the program and a week of training in the subject area of their specific department. Every teacher who attended commented that it was one of the most valuable professional development experiences that they have had.
Besides training in AP course design and delivery, attendees quickly picked up on how the educational concepts and teaching modalities they were learning could be infused into their regular classroom curriculum. Thus, all students at the high school — whether they choose to take an AP course or not — could possibly benefit by introduction of the AP Program.
While bringing the AP Program into the high school will provide great benefits and opportunities for students and families, much still needs to be worked out. For example, although several AP courses are available, the ones PSHS offers will be determined by level of interest and enrollment. Also, students who enroll in an AP course may have trouble dropping it because of scheduling conflicts. The staff involved in the AP Program is dedicated to addressing these and possible other issues to make the program a success.
"We are a small school with limited resources and teachers. We have to make sure we are doing what's right for all of our 500 students, not just our college-bound students or advanced learners," says O'Donnell. "That's where good planning comes in. We've got a lot of work to do before we implement the program next fall, but we are excited about the possibilities."