Pressure for Rigor

In all of the college information sessions and discussions about college, Riya Garg ’15 finds one constant theme: The number of Advanced Placement classes and rigor of a schedule is always a main focus. As a senior, Garg admits she feels a pressure to take as many AP and honors classes as possible.

“I feel that there is an unspoken agreement that college expects you to take an AP or honors class if it is available,” Garg said. “Each time you attend a college information session, they make a point to say they look at the rigor of courses, so I think it is on a lot of people’s minds.”

Dean Sharon Cuseo says the school is considering enacting a policy to limit the number of AP classes a student could take each year.

“Many of the deans would like to see the school drop APs altogether or cap the number of AP classes a student can take,” Cuseo said. “After the workload study, I think that is something we are willing to explore implementing.”

In analyzing the results of the workload study, the administration took notice of an increased involvement in weighted classes, AP and honors courses graded on a 5.0 scale rather than the 4.0 scale all other classes are graded on, Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts said.

“We are considering enforceable limits, whether that be on only AP classes, on weighted classes or on weighted classes and activities in general,” Huybrechts said.

Andrew Lehroff ’17 sees this potential cap on classes as a restriction of student interests.

“I would say that it wouldn’t be fair to the kids who deserve to take those courses,” Lehroff said. “Especially because some kids devote all of their time to academics rather than sports, performing arts and so on.”

However, Garg can see the motivation to alleviate stress behind the potential restrictions.

“I think it could take some pressure off students but I think it could also be limiting considering a majority of senior classes are only AP,” Garg said.

As evidence of the increasing popularity of an AP-oriented schedule, Cuseo points to the enrollment in AP Computer Science A.

“One of the best indicators of the focus on AP classes is the incoming sophomores because unless you are going to take an AP in World Languages, other than that, the only AP [sophomores] can take is Computer Science,” Cuseo said. “And interestingly, as the college competition ratchets up, more of that class has filled up. It is a great class and people are enjoying the subject, but I think a huge part of it is sophomores wanting to jump on the AP train, whether it’s a genuine interest or not.”

When the class was initially offered, AP Computer Science A had enrollments between five and 20 students, math and computer science teacher Paula Evans said. However, the total enrollment for last year was 82 and 102 students this year. This increase makes AP Computer Science A the most popular class in the math department.

“It would be a beautiful thing if people were to approach their curriculum with an eye toward what they really want to study, but unfortunately it is hardly ever pure,” Cuseo said.

Cuseo said that much of the focus on weighted courses is derived from misconceptions about how many of these courses other students in the same grade are taking.

“Parents and students will come to me and say ‘I think most of the other juniors are taking four or five AP classes’,” Cuseo said. “And you hear that sort of statement all the time, and it’s just not true.”

Cuseo said that the cancellation of six Kutler Center classes was most likely caused by students, too concerned with AP classes.

Although the number of classes offered in the Kutler Center dropped, the total enrollment of students in these classes has increased, according to Interdisciplinary Studies and Independent Research (ISIR) head Larry Klein.

“I am uncertain whether limiting the number of AP courses a student is permitted to take would affect ISIR Department enrollment numbers, but it wouldn’t be too enormous a logical leap to think that either kids will just block those opened-up slots in their schedules or would instead fill those with elective courses across the various departments,” Klein said.

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