Education column: AP - Is that a grocery store?

No, A&P is the name of the grocery store chain. In this case, AP stands for Advanced Placement, as in Advanced Placement academic courses at a high school. Most schools seek to challenge every student to develop his or her academic skills and capabilities to the fullest extent possible. In high school, this means offering students a choice in the level of rigor at which they take a given course, e.g. Chemistry. Courses are typically offered at the College Preparatory, Honors and AP levels.

The level of rigor a student selects is determined by his or her personal motivation, previously completed courses and career goals.

The AP program was developed in the mid-1950s as a way to promote excellence in secondary schools across America. University and high school educational leaders worked together to design high school courses and assessments (exams) that could be used to grant college credit. In other words, AP courses and exams were based on what colleges were teaching in classes taken by freshmen. Once the program was ready, the College Board, a nonprofit organization, was invited to administer it. Almost 60 years later, the College Board still administers the AP program. They also oversee the well-known SAT program.

During the 2010-11 school year, AP courses were available for 30 different subjects. In that same year, 1.8 million students took 3.2 million AP exams. As you can gather, the AP program has grown to be quite popular with high school students. Much of that popularity is due to the chance to acquire college credits while still in high school. These credits can and do help reduce the cost of attending college. AP exam grades range from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest. To get college credit, a grade of 3 or better is usually required. Some colleges require a minimum grade of 4; others do not grant credit for AP courses, no matter what the grade.

Like other educational programs, the AP program is undergoing wholesale change at the national level to meet new expectations for course content and outcomes. In the "old" days, more rigorous coursework often meant covering more material, memorizing more facts and doing science lab experiments to verify existing hypotheses. Now, the entire AP program is being redesigned to reflect what high school students must know and do to be ready for higher education and for today's increasingly technical workplace. Greater emphasis will be placed on problem solving and analytical thinking skills. Fewer topics will be covered within a given course, but they will be covered at greater depth. Lab experiments will involve more hypothesis formation and testing and less emphasis on predetermined outcomes. Detailed standards will be developed for each course.

So, how are things with the AP program at North Augusta High School? I was recently privileged to observe an AP English Literature class; I hope to attend others soon. In a future article, I'll share some insights on how NAHS students are being challenged, through AP courses, to perform at high levels of academic excellence. Stay tuned for the rest of the story.

This column is a regular submission written alternately by the two North Augusta school board representatives - Ray Fleming and Keith Liner.