By BECKY THOMAS
It seems like a simple proposition: you take an advanced class, work hard all year and take a test in the spring to measure your knowledge. If you do well, you receive college credit, getting a head start in pursuing your degree.
Advanced Placement classes and tests are the norm for many college-track high school students, but these students are not all the same.
Corey Anderson, Cheney High School counselor and AP coordinator, said AP students have different motivations for taking on college-level courses while still in high school. Some may have started high school math as an eighth grader, and AP calculus or statistics is their next step as a junior or senior. Others may just want a bigger challenge that what they get in regular classes. For many, Anderson said, the rising cost of college is daunting, and the prospect of earning free credits is a huge financial opportunity.
“With the recession the last few years and college costs going up every year, it’s obvious that students want to get as many free credits as they can.”
Demand is increasing for Advanced Placement classes at Cheney High School. This year, there are 260 students in seven AP classes. Two of those students are seniors Sophie Schwalbe and Robbie Cook, both old hats at AP. Schwalbe and Cook, along with nine of their classmates, were named AP Scholars last year for completing three AP exams with scores of 3 or higher on a 5-point scale.
For them, AP classes were a natural next step in their college preparation.
“All my teachers said, ‘Take AP,’” Schwalbe said.
Some students think that AP classes are a lot harder than regular classes, but Cook said the homework loads were similar. The time spent in class, however, was more intensive.
“It’s harder thinking, like a higher level,” he said.
Both students are considering colleges outside Washington, which was another reason they chose AP classes. Other CHS students get college credits by participating in Running Start, in which they travel to local colleges and take classes on campus. Anderson said most Running Start students stay in state for college, since outside of Washington “credits don’t always transfer perfectly.”
Schwalbe is considering Ivy League colleges, which don’t always accept AP credits, but she said the classes and test scores on her transcript “would put me in the range that they’re looking at.”
After a full year of class, AP students take tests in each of their subjects in the spring. Students pay for the tests, so the pressure is on to get a return on investment.
Anderson said he was happy to see more students taking on AP, but he doesn’t focus on numbers and test scores. The important thing is to help students determine if they’re ready for AP and assisting them throughout the year.
“It’s about having an AP course on their college transcript and that college preparation experience,” he said.
AP classes are also a time investment for teachers. They must submit syllabi for their AP classes to the AP parent company College Board for approval each year, and recent big curriculum changes became a big project for a few teachers.
But Anderson said the district sees the importance of offering the classes, and additional subjects are being considered based on student demand.
Becky Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.