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Taras Dreszer Journalism Final Draft, Issue 5 5 February 2010 Time for a Change? PCS’s AP Requirements The proctor announces, “fifteen minutes.” All your muscles tighten as you stare at your AP test answer sheet. In the next fifteen minutes, you could save yourself a yearlong class in college—or waste a yearlong class you just took. Advanced Placement (AP) classes are one of the most defining characteristics of PCS, but they’re also one of the most controversial. Proponents argue that AP classes are an integral part of the college prep experience, while others argue that the AP requirements are restrictive and limiting. Our new principal, Archie Douglass, is evaluating the situation and may change the AP requirements. Currently, PCS requires five AP classes to graduate. The official policy is ambiguous as far as which APs those can be (neither the website or the student handbook make any mention of required AP classes), but due to the classes offered, students are effectively required to take AP World History, AP US History, AP Biology, AP English Language, and AP English Literature. These specific requirements aren’t technically mandatory for graduation; however, a system has been set up to make these classes unavoidable. For instance, four English classes are required to graduate. However, since Rhetoric and Interdisciplinary Writing count as electives instead of English classes, students need to take both AP English classes. In the Science and History departments, classes that could be taken instead of APs have that AP class as a prerequisite. For instance, Government can’t be used to fulfill one of the three years of required history because AP US history is a prerequisite. The same situation applies to AP Biology and AP Environmental Science. There is growing opposition to these specific AP graduation requirements and even to APs in general. Some argue that requiring AP classes at all is a mistake. After all, hardly any high-schools require APs, and many only allow the best and brightest students at the school to take APs. AP classes entail significantly more work than a regular class, which limits number of challenging classes a student can take, as well as their extra-curricular involvement. Additionally, AP classes often strictly follow the AP curriculum, meaning there’s no time to explore any particular topic in depth. Meanwhile, for students who aren’t good test takers, what value is a class that is geared toward a single test? Additionally, there is frustration with certain policies that block potential alternatives to AP classes. For instance, Cabrillo or UCSC classes can not be used to substitute classes PCS offers. Says senior Andreas Bischoff- Fredrick, “Is there a problem with someone who needs things at a different speed taking the class off-campus? I don't think so." Adds Wyatt Tucker, “Don’t force someone who hates English to take two English APs when they would rather take a math or science AP!” On the other hand, the AP requirements separate PCS from other public high schools. Although APs are required for PCS students, the charter is based on the notion that students can choose to go to a regular public school if they don’t like AP classes. PCS was created for highly motivated students who were willing to take the most challenging classes available and work extra hard in school, so trying to accommodate every student’s preferences is not part of the charter. Some would argue that PCS could offer challenging classes that aren’t APs, but this would remove accountability and allow for the school’s academic rigor to drop. In fact, some think this is already happing. Hal Hansen, who has taught at the school for seven years, notes, “I think academic standards have declined every year I've been here. Getting rid of required AP classes is part of a larger trend of people asking for less work and lower standards … If we get rid of AP classes, I think our academic quality will fall apart and we'll be like every other school in town.” Additionally, AP classes bring PCS and its students more benefits than simply accountability. First of all, good AP scores translate into college credit at many schools, which can save students money or even allow them to graduate early. Secondly, requiring AP classes is a big factor in our school’s national rankings. This causes colleges to look more favorably on applicants from PCS. However, the high rankings do attract more publicity and ultimately better teachers. The school could however, change the AP requirements while still requiring a certain number of APs for graduation. Some complain that the requirements are biased towards the humanities, requiring four humanities APs and just one Math or Science AP. Many people suggest that the requirements be loosened to any five APs, or a certain number in humanities and math/science instead of requiring other classes. Sarah Whittier, who teaches AP English Literature, is a strong proponent for adding more flexibility to the graduation requirements. She asserts, “I reject the premise that non-AP classes are by definition less rigorous. On a further point, I would argue that cramming for AP content might not be the most effective way to challenge and excite the mind or instill a love of learning.” However, opponents of this idea say that this would allow students to take easier APs, and would reduce the number of AP students. Cost is also an issue. Offering more classes would raise costs in the school’s already strained budget, and many think that it is currently impractical to do so. Whether or not you agree with the current AP requirements, it is clear that general attitude and mindset of the PCS community is changing. With a new principal, the school policy is open to change as well. So if you have an opinion on AP requirements, now’s the time to speak out!