A Farewell to APs?

Hedy Gutfreund Acting Co-Editor-in-Chief “APUSH is killing me!” is no longer a sentence that will be as audible as the shot heard ‘round the world in the junior hallway next year. Granted, maybe we’ll be saying, “Honors US is killing me” or even “HUSH is killing me” (if that becomes a thing – I am definitely rooting for it), but that’s not the real significance of the change. The real importance is that Latin is taking the College Board curriculum into its own hands. Instead of being bogged down by pre-colonial history and, in turn, having to miss out on learning about the modern era, Latin’s Honors United States History class will basically be doing an AP class, Latin-style. With a greater focus on writing skills instead of AP prep, we’re hopeful that the history department is  going to do us – the future juniors – a big favor. Mr. Greer, the head of the history department, was a big proponent behind this change. He and the history department think that AP European History and AP Psychology have “content requirements that don’t create impossible pacing” and that “as a department and as a school, we look at each class and each test on a case-by-case basis.” US History didn’t make the cut this year, though. He also noted that the AP US History class will be changing in the coming years to focus on pre-Columbian times, as the focus on memorizing minute details instead of understanding the history seemed less and less appealing. As Mr. Greer puts it, “We’re not interested in waiting for [the College Board’s] final curriculum.” He goes on to add an important point (one that maybe the College Board should note before changing the AP US History class, for the benefit of anyone taking the test in the future), “Most students don’t care about James K. Polk, but they do care about the decade in which they were born.” He is aware, though, that many students will still want to take the AP test in May. He says, “I’m not in a position to predict how many people will still take the test. That, I don’t know. But we’ll still make materials available to students who want to take the test beyond class time.” Furthermore, what does an AP test or an AP class even do for us anyway? For that, I went to Ms. Pleshette to further my investigation. She was very clear in making a distinction between AP tests and AP classes and their relative values. She notes, “I don’t know if there’s a benefit for AP classes other than what I think Latin teachers are quite capable of, which is constructing a rigorous curriculum. That’s my answer once you’re at Latin.” But then comes the challenge to the administration, because Ms. Pleshette understands the value of AP classes in a curriculum to prospective students. As she sees it, “It seems almost natural – or a layperson may conclude – that the more AP classes a school has, it’s a better school. I don’t know if that’s the right conclusion, but that’s what people think.” She went on to tell me that taking the actual AP tests is of very little benefit to some students, but some Latin students do reap the benefits of advanced standing at colleges – some even graduate early with AP credit. But as Mr. Greer says, “It seems clear that a fewer number of selective colleges and universities accept AP credit as course credit.” He also offers up an important piece of advice, saying, “ If you’re interested in pursuing the subject area, I always recommend that you take the intro class in your major so that you become familiar with the faculty and the way your college department teaches that subject.” From the students’ point of view, I remember hearing about the change in SAB (Student Academic Board) for the first time and being a bit disappointed. In fact, I think a lot of us there were dubious of the value of switching away from APs. That’s probably because change is kind of scary, no matter what it is. I had expected to take AP United States History my junior year, and it was kind of weird to think that we’d be the first ones to have the change. A general sense of worry is among many of my peers in the rising junior class. Many are disappointed by the change and worry that colleges won’t be able to see that this honors class is as rigorous as an AP class. As one anonymous student puts it, “it’s a hard class, so it might also be misleading to some that it isn’t an AP.” And I think we all know who that “some” is – it’s the constant fear of “how will this look to colleges?” Rest assured, the administration knows this. And Ms. Pleshette wants to calm this fear. In her words, “Sometimes it’s a distraction at Latin – we have some rigorous, fascinating classes – that are not designated as honors or AP. I think we spend a lot of time worrying about what looks good to others rather than wondering what satisfies our curiosities. And by we – students and faculty. If I have any wish, it’s that students are driven by more than the flash or title that comes along with the class.” Junior Emma Michalak has an interesting take on the issue. She unwittingly waited for the change to occur before taking the class, and she’s glad for it. After taking AP European History in place of AP US History this year, she will be taking Honors US History with the current sophomores. In her perspective, “From what my peers have told me, APUSH was a really rigorous course that they felt should have been slowed down to a pace that would encourage more in-depth learning of the material rather than just cramming facts for the AP test in May.” I personally am excited, like Emma is, to be among the first to take this new Honors US History class, and I hope it will offer me the benefits of an AP class – without the major downfalls. Time will tell if this transition will benefit us all, but I think all signs point to yes.]]>