Autumn O’Bryan, Cleveland High School principal, said a mistake is made when people assume AP courses are only for straight-A students.
“I think a lot of people make the mistake of thinking AP courses are for the upper echelon of students,” O’Bryan said. “AP courses allow students with a keen interest in certain subjects to follow their studies deeper.”
O’Bryan noted, “In an ideal world, students would take an AP biology course even if they were a terrible English student — or if they had not traditionally taken honor courses throughout school — if they were interested in biology.”
Advanced placement courses are equivalent in difficulty to 100- or 200-level college courses. There are currently a total of 34 AP courses offered through the College Board at high schools across the nation. These courses include macroeconomics, Physics B, music theory, computer science, world history, studio art, Chinese language and culture, European history, human geography and more.
The number and type of AP courses offered varies from high school to high school.
O’Bryan said CHS currently offers eight AP courses with the expectation of several more in the coming years. The eight offered are calculus, statistics, chemistry, environmental science, biology, English literature, European history and U.S. history.
Julie Phillips, AP teacher at CHS, said her expectations for general curriculum and honors students are the same as for her AP students.
The difference lies in how much preparation a student will have for college.
Students take an exam at the end of the year to test their knowledge on their enrolled subjects. The scoring rubric is based on a 1-to-5 scale.
According to the College Board, most four-year colleges across the nation and colleges in more than 60 countries will give college credit for students who score a 4 or a 5.
College credit is attained for a 100 or 200-level course similar to the AP course taken in high school. A high school graduate with a score of 4 or 5 in four AP courses could receive 12 or more college credits automatically.
O’Bryan said high school students are looking at AP courses as a way to eliminate unneeded course costs in college.
Exam results can be sent directly to the colleges high school seniors plan to attend. Each exam costs $89. Sometimes a school or a school board, like the Cleveland City Schools Board of Education, will cover the costs. CHS students do not have to pay for their AP tests.
All AP teachers must turn in a syllabus prior to teaching an AP course. College Board representatives review and either approve or deny each course syllabus.
Phillips said the general layout of her AP classes does not differ much from general curriculum courses.
“We typically spend a large part of the class in lecture and discussion. We incorporate Socratic discussion as much as we can,” Phillips said. “Students are asked to read and complete assignments in preparation for lecture and discussion.”
Athena Davis, CHS AP teacher, said her AP students move at a faster pace.
“I teach English 4 as well as AP, and my AP class reads all of the same works my English 4 course does, but they also read eight to 10 extra novels,” Davis said.
She agreed her courses are more discussion-based than general courses.
“In AP courses, the burden of the work is placed on the students, with the role of teacher more of a facilitator/enlightener, if you will,” Davis said.
Jeannie Cuervo, CHS AP teacher, said Advanced Placement courses allow students to struggle.
“High school teachers and college professors can understand the importance of [struggling]. If our very bright students are never challenged in high school, they can have a great deal of difficulty in college,” Cuervo said.
“Struggling allows them to learn how to think, learn how to problem solve, learn how to manage their time and learn how to persist.”
She said having the experience of struggling in a safe environment like high school is a priceless experience.
Cuervo encouraged more students to enroll in AP courses.
“We at CHS feel more students can and should be taking AP courses. CHS AP teachers are strongly committed to helping our students be successful and to providing opportunities for all CHS students,” Cuervo said.
O’Bryan said some students do not enroll in AP courses out of fear for their GPAs.
“I think typically students are afraid to take chances. They are protective of their GPA,” O’Bryan said. “I think at times they would [rather] sacrifice learning — or at least furthering their knowledge base — than receive a B. That culture is tough to break.”
Students with an interest in taking an AP course can bring the matter up with their guidance counselor. Some schools require a recommendation by a teacher before a student is enrolled in an AP course.
Those interested should address their questions now as many high school students will soon be selecting their courses for next year.
“You do not have to take an AP course in every subject offered,” O’Bryan said. “I think the biggest thing is having an interest in the subject and having a good work ethic. It is not necessarily harder as much as different.”