Advanced Placement

Thursday, April 03, 2014 - By: David McCarthy

Advanced Placement exams will soon be upon us and teachers are busy preparing students for the exams that will take place in May. At Brentwood our philosophy is that these courses offer opportunities for higher level learning and superior preparation for university-caliber work. In some subjects such as Calculus and the sciences, the AP class runs parallel with a regular calculus or Biology 12 class which follows the Ministry of Education provincial curriculum. In these courses students are expected to take the AP exam as it makes up an important element of the course and is, certainly in the sciences, the culmination of two years of study as most students enroll in the grade 11 AP stream the year prior.

In some courses such as Comparative Government and Politics or Psychology, there is no provincial course offered and so students are able to choose whether or not they wish to participate in the exam experience. Being primarily aimed at the American schools, which start earlier in the year and finish earlier than Canadian schools, the US College Board based exams are often a challenge for teachers in that the curriculum is broad and students are expected to tackle the exam well before the end of the year. Even some very prestigious schools in the US have moved away from AP exams because they value the flexibility that their own pacing offers and want teachers to resist a pedagogy of “teaching to th-+e test”.

It seems the College Board is listening to educators in both secondary and post-secondary institutions. Several syllabi have been revised to reduce content and emphasize critical thinking over memorization and regurgitation. Even in my own area, the quite conservative realm of chemistry, there is a mandated shift from laboratory exercises that involve following a prescribed procedure or “recipe” to an inquiry based approach where students formulate their own hypotheses and design their own experiments.  

Though AP success in terms of placement (being offered the ability to take a higher level course at university) and credit (actually being granted course credit for first year courses) can be appealing, the main reason students opt for AP courses at Brentwood is to challenge themselves and learn the kinds of transferable skills that a demanding course emphasizes. For this reason, we continue to support the AP program while at the same time welcoming the shift that is occurring in curriculum and instructional methodology.

Mr. David McCarthy, Director of Academics

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