With a month to go before Advanced Placement exam season, many teachers are busy completing curriculum and gearing students up for the challenge of AP exams. Whilst many argue, with some validity, that formal examinations are just one way to demonstrate knowledge, the reality is that our students need to be prepared for this kind of testing in the world beyond Brentwood. This is also why, in addition to the summative AP test, most of the students in those courses will also have a June final that confirms their ability and counts towards their transcript. Meanwhile, in other grades, students are making decisions about which courses to choose and whether or not to take the AP option if one is available. In some subjects, such as Art History and Comparative Government and Politics, the AP option is the only one offered. Usually this is because there is no equivalent BC Ministry course. But for the AP designation, universities would not allow these courses to be used for entrance purposes.
In this way the AP program helps us to broaden our course offerings as well as bring students the benefits of extra rigor that the exam offers. Further, the added bonus that comes with high performance on the exam (a 4 or 5 grade) is often, depending on the university, degree credit, which, given that students often take multiple AP exams, can represent quite a saving in post-secondary tuition.
Gratifyingly, the College Board, which administers the exams, are looking to adopt a progressive stance where the focus is on scholastic skills rather than rote memorization. A good example is the newly introduced AP Seminar course which teaches students to develop multiple ways of looking at issues and to appreciate a variety of viewpoints. Credit in this course is awarded for a combination of exam and coursework, both of which combine to illustrate student learning. The course is designed to lead, in the following year, to AP Research in which students use the skills they have acquired to inquire into an area of their choice, often with a mentor from outside of the school who is an expert in that particular field.
Though this degree of personalization and passion based learning cannot apply to all subjects, it is increasingly being thought of as a significant Capstone to a high school career that all Brentwood students should try to achieve in some form or other, demonstrating their learning through a portfolio of some kind. In this sense, there is a tie-in to the Dogwood Scholarships, a BC Ministry funded excellence award to graduates who demonstrate outstanding achievement in the arts, applied skills, leadership or athletics. They must perform or present to adjudicators, from those fields, who appraise their level of ability in a manner that is very different from a formal examination. As we move further into the timeline of the new BC Curriculum with its emphasis on competencies, big ideas and essential knowledge, we are conscious of the need to find the right balance of assessment tools to promote as well as to measure student learning.
Mr. David McCarthy