By Clara Atwell, Business and Associate Editor or maybe the Editorial Board
(See Feature article, “Honors classes to be introduced, continued,” page 8)
Every member of this editorial board has taken advantage of the Advanced Placement (AP) courses offered at the high school, in particular the social studies classes, from freshman to senior year. We fear that the planned substitution of the AP World History course with standard world history, with the option of embedded honors, will put future students at a disadvantage when entering college. In theory, embedded honors provides rigor in classes where students otherwise would not find it; however, taking away AP courses in the name of embedded honors does not seem justified.
AP classes are designed and facilitated by College Board — the same organization that manages the SAT. The curricula in these classes are designed to mimic an intro-level college course.
In May, students who take AP classes are offered subject tests, graded on a scale from one to five, and if they score above a certain level they can receive college credit from many universities around the world, including Western Washington University, University of Washington and Washington State University — three of the schools most attended by VHS alumni.
At under $100 per test, these exam credits are a fraction of what they would cost at colleges with tuitions in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Many of us have just gone through the college application and admission process and partially attribute acceptances at top universities to the AP courses offered at the high school.
But AP classes offer benefits that go beyond our transcripts, due to the foundations of work ethic, study and communication skills, as well as the friendships we’ve built outside of our traditional friend groups, working with other students who are passionate about the subjects.
With these great advantages of AP classes comes an understandable disadvantage — teachers don’t have much creative license when structuring an AP curriculum. This is why some teachers lean toward honors curriculum.
On the flip side, AP equates to a reliable curriculum that has been developed over decades by teachers and students around the globe.
Offering all students the opportunity to take or not take difficult courses is important, and we appreciate that the school is expanding the AP course selection from just the required social-studies classes, as it has been limited to in recent years, with the introduction of classes like AP Environmental Science and AP Comparative Government.
That said, substituting an AP course for one with embedded honors is not necessarily an equal trade.
The danger with embedded honors courses is that the students enrolled have more in-depth assignments but lack corresponding instruction and supported discussion as would be offered in an AP or traditional honors course.
“While [embedded honors] is better for students who really want the rigorous course, it’s not as powerful of an experience,” English teacher and department chair John Rees said. “My bias is that in the upper grades, [students] should be able to have an experience where they’re with a cohort who feels the same [about the subject], and I don’t think embedded honors offers that.”
While embedded honors may be easier for the school to provide, it likely will introduce more work for honors students compared to their peers in core classes, but without the associated benefits of AP courses — including the accompanying in-depth teacher instruction, which is often a key aide in completing assignments.
With the introduction of Embedded Honors World History, the Current Events class that has traditionally taken up one semester of the core sophomore social studies curriculum for some students is also being taken away. In this way, both students who would likely have taken the AP course and those who would have taken Current Events are losing a lot more than they are gaining with embedded honors in this traditionally AP class.
From potential college credit and a reliable curriculum to an exceptionally strong, focused learning environment, AP classes offer what embedded honors cannot. We believe that the district should be working to broaden the scope of AP classes available to all students instead of compromising with embedded honors.