AP Exams and Online Philosophy

Friday, May 13, 2016 - By: David McCarthy

As I write this, my Biology class is writing their Advanced Placement exam, a three hour marathon designed to test their knowledge, understanding, and facility with concepts covered in biology over the past two years. It may also be a test of the endurance and their ability to read and write well under pressure. These skills may be the really transferable benefits of taking the course as opposed to other more science-related goals beyond Brentwood.

Our reasons for offering AP courses and exams are many-fold. Primarily we believe that it offers a vehicle for work at a higher level for those students who want to excel academically and to challenge themselves. Teachers are also able to give students a valuable glimpse of material they may see in first year university courses and thereby help ease that transitional experience which can be troubling for many students. Gaining a university credit can also be a great way to save on tuition if students gain a 4 or 5 on the exam. They may also gain “placement” to higher level courses in first year with the evidence of a good score on the AP test.

University policies differ on this, but the real justification is to be better prepared for whatever courses are taken by spending time on rigorous topics during the year and thinking critically at a higher level than perhaps they would on a regular course. No doubt I will hear from my students that it was a hard exam as the design of the test is to present students with material they are unfamiliar with and see if they can apply their knowledge of principles to interpret information presented in a variety of ways.

The new format biology exam is much less of a regurgitation exercise and far more of a thinking test, a trend that is in line with a more modern approach to education. The College Board is making the shift to allow teachers to focus more on the practice of science with students and help them develop the kinds of skills that are needed for success in the process of inquiry. In that process the exam is a useful checkpoint, as all externally based exams are, for us to judge our effectiveness as teachers and for students to gauge their abilities against a broader population. For all these reasons we are likely to continue to offer Advanced Placement courses in the foreseeable future.

Another of my tasks today is to speak to the Grade 9 class during their advisor time about e-learning or online courses. The reality is likely to be that by the time that they graduate, 50% of all college and university courses will be at least in part offered online. Next year we will offer some students the opportunity (after a careful guidance and vetting process) to take one of their elective courses in Grade 10 online. Working with an online provider to ensure course quality, we are able to offer some courses that are beyond our normal scope of electives, such as Forensics, Fashion and Interior Design, or Health Science. One objective is to provide an opportunity to experience an online learning environment in advance of post-secondary studies where these options are becoming ever more common.

Mr David McCarthy, Director of Learning           

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