School Reimagines Upper-Level Curriculum

As the school phases out Advanced Placement (AP) courses, teachers of upper-level classes have gained the freedom to redesign curriculums to delve more deeply into their subjects. 

In 2017, the school revised its mission statement to better speak to the community’s values. During this process, faculty re-examined the curriculum, including how it could be improved to fulfill the new mission statement. The faculty believed that AP classes were limiting their ability to create the most rigorous and comprehensive courses. Mr. Jared Hall, dean of academic life, said, “We are enormously privileged to have exceptionally motivated students who are well prepared paired up with faculty members who are passionate about their subject areas, and who are knowledgeable about how to teach and inspire interest in those subject areas. The constraints of the AP program don’t allow us to tap that full potential, and in fact were getting in the way of achieving our mission.”

The school’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion also prompted the curriculum redesign.  For example, the College Board only offers history APs in European, United States, and World History and does not include targeted exams in specific non-Western areas. Faculty hopes that the removal of APs will incentivize students to take courses that aren’t offered by the AP college board, ensuring that they have access to a wider range of voices and perspectives. 

In the 2019-2020 academic year, the school began the process of phasing out APs and adjusted the AP courses to retain approximately 80-100% of the AP course capacity. This year, departments are continuing to shift the upper level curriculum from AP to honors courses, retaining only 25-75% of content that aligns with the AP course. 

One class that is emblematic of this new approach is Honors Principles and Applications of Economics Course (EC480). While the AP Economics curriculum prioritises memorization of facts, definitions, and graphs, EC480 emphasizes process and inquiry, posing real-world problems, and allowing students to debate and explore a deeper understanding of economics. Mr. Hall said, “We are skipping the remedial textbook approach to learning, because the capability of our students by the time they reach the upper levels is truly outstanding. We are pushing students and supporting students in reaching further than the AP. In honors courses, students have to think independently and present arguments at an exceptionally high level.” 

Students have also welcomed the transition away from AP courses. Former EC480 student, Victoria Chen ’21 said, “There’s something valuable about being able to take a subject and learn it at the pace of the people in the class, rather than rushing to get the content learned in time for a standardized test that doesn’t even hold much significance or truly test your competence in a subject. Non-AP courses are more personalized to the people in the class and add another dimension to the learning experience since they are more understanding-based than memorization-based.”

The school will continue the transition process by removing the AP designation from all course titles and descriptions in the 2020-2021 academic year.

Quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.