When it comes to enrollment in advanced curricula, students at East have many voices trying to influence their decisions, as the choice is ultimately left up to them to make. From older peers, students may receive the advice not to take a class because of its difficulty. Alternatively, parents might encourage their children to “challenge themselves” and to take the most rigorous course load they can. While difficulty and course rigor are important factors in making a decision, parents and other students are not the ideal sources for the information. One voice that seems muffled is that of teachers.
Teachers, not students or parents, are the ones who know the time commitments and difficulty of their classes — thus teachers should be given greater influence on enrollment decisions for Advanced Placement classes and the International Baccalaureate Programme. Teachers should come together to devise a set of qualifications for enrollment in these classes, and end the policy of open enrollment in AP and IB classes.
It needs to be made clear that these programs are not just for resume-padding, and that they are intended only for those who are willing to make a commitment to learning. In devising a system, East needs to ensure that their advanced classes meet the criteria that the College Board and International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) sets out for the classes.
The College Board states on their website that the courses are supposed to be at the college level. According to the website, students in AP classes are supposed to engage in intense discussions, solve problems collaboratively, and learn to write clearly and persuasively. The IBO states similar intentions in their Mission Statement for their Diploma Programme. But not every student in an AP or IB class is capable or willing to make a commitment to learning in such an environment — a commitment without which the student is more likely to succeed in a standard-level class.
As a result of the open enrollment in advanced classes, many teachers employ the “scare tactic,” where on Syllabus Day, they are prone to hyperbolic statements about the difficulty of their classes. This method is ineffective for two reasons: most students see right through the trick, and it might scare off students who really do belong in the class. There needs to be a more reliable system for teachers to ensure that only students capable of meeting the expectations set out by the College Board and IBO enroll in their classes.
Because the qualities of a successful math student are different from those of a successful English or Visual Arts student, each department should come up with their own policy of determining eligibility for enrollment in AP and IB classes. But each policy should be firm and exact, with few exceptions being made for those who do not meet the criteria.
As an example, a possible policy for AP classes in English would be the minimum requirement of a B in a previous honors English class or an A in a regular one. Along with the grade, the student would have to have a teacher’s signature confirming that the student contributed positively to class discussions and met or exceeded all other class expectations.
For a student to enroll to become an International Baccalaureate Candidate, a suggestion for a policy would be to require a student to have a 3.6 unweighted GPA and recommendations for the program from teachers in all six of the subjects the student will be taking IB courses in.
Growth in both the AP and IB programs might slow down, possibly hurting East’s in the Newsweek rankings, but we shouldn’t put the value of unofficial rankings above safeguarding the success of our students. The fewer students will be surrounded by the best of their peers. They will take the classes more seriously when it becomes a privilege to take them. The students will develop ideas together, with everyone focused on learning — not on the college credit they might earn.
Another benefit of a new system would be for the gifted-but-fearful students. When the opinions of teachers become a more important component of enrollment discussions, some talented students who might not have otherwise taken an advanced class would be encouraged to.
Teacher’s opinions are already taken into account when students select their math classes. Based on the student’s ability and performance, the student’s current teacher gives a recommendation for what course they think the student should enroll in. But the flaw in this plan is that the choice is still ultimately left up to the student. The teacher’s opinion should not be so easily discarded when it comes to the AP and IB Calculus classes; those classes carry the expectation of a certain work ethic. If a student fails to demonstrate that they value learning complex math and not just the extra grade point, they should be prohibited from enrolling.
Some would argue that making enrollment more stringent will deny the students who do not already possess the qualities of a successful AP student an opportunity to develop them. But that’s what the honors courses freshman and sophomore year are for. Students in AP and IB classes should be capable of working collaboratively and dedicating enough time to studying before they enroll in the course. Extra time is increasingly scarce, as The College Board is consistently updating their AP curricula, often adding more topics to the history and science classes. Teachers shouldn’t be spending any time going over the basics of the Socratic Method.
Others might say that a new system would limit educational opportunity to only a fortunate few, but this isn’t true. There would be no caps on how many students can enroll in a class. Everyone who has done the hard work to meet the eligibility requirements would be allowed in.
Ensuring that the right students end up in the right classes should be taken more earnestly by the school. Enrolling in an upper-level class needs to be much more difficult than writing on a piece of card-stock and getting a parent to sign it. The school should focus on making sure that students are in the classes that they will succeed in, and by doing this they will do a better job of preparing students for the future.