School Committee ponders AP course adjustment

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School Committee ponders AP course adjustment
The School Committee discussed the possibility of allowing freshmen and sophomores to take AP (Photo/Laura Hayes)

SHREWSBURY – The School Committee on Nov. 29 discussed the possibility of allowing ninth- and 10th-grade students to take AP courses.

The district currently permits only 11th- and 12th-grade students to take the more-rigorous courses.

AP, or Advanced Placement, courses are created by the College Board, an organization that also offers the SAT and PSAT standardized tests. AP courses are college-level classes that allow students — should they pass a cumulative exam at the end of the year — to earn transferable credit at many higher-education institutions.

According to Shrewsbury High School Principal Todd Bazydlo, 436 high school students recently took AP exams, completing 916 tests. Approximately 31% of those tests resulted in a score of 5, the highest possible score on an AP exam.

While presenting information on students’ performance on standardized tests, Bazydlo addressed new College Board Honor Roll standards. The College Board now assigns “college optimization” scores to high schools, which rewards schools for allowing freshmen and sophomores to take AP exams.

With ninth- and 10th-grade students unable to take AP courses, Shrewsbury scored bronze in the college optimization category. It scored silver and platinum in other areas of the Honor Roll.

“We could have conversations about our thoughts about the College Board’s college optimization and what that might mean for providing student opportunities. We’ve held firm that… preparing students for what we think is college-level work in freshman or sophomore year might not be the best,” Bazydlo said during his presentation.

In an age of increased competition regarding college applications, AP tests have become an attractive option for people who want to stand out to top colleges. Students who wish to attend highly-selective universities might take multiple AP courses.

At the meeting, School Committee member Rachel Sharifipour asked Bazydlo whether students are taking AP courses to be more competitive on college applications, or if students are taking them as preparation for college. Bazydlo acknowledged that AP courses — as academically-challenging classes — add weight to an application but also mentioned that the school has other ways to get a “leg up,” including dual-enrollment courses and Project Lead the Way.

Other committee members were skeptical of the College Board’s motives with the college optimization score. After COVID-19, many colleges no longer require College Board’s SAT, and the company could be looking to expand the volume of AP tests taken to compensate.

“It might also be a marketing piece and cost piece for the [College Board] as well,” said School Committee Chair Sandra Fryc. “I think this is very good information to have, but it’s very interesting how things have changed over time and what colleges look at.”

Superintendent Joe Sawyer called the new measure “interesting,” noting that the College Board, now incentivizing schools to offer AP courses to freshmen, has previously cautioned districts about providing the classes to ninth-grade students.

“We know we have some brilliant students. Shrewsbury — like other districts do as well — has students who academically could probably succeed in an AP course when they’re in sixth grade, seventh grade, or eighth grade,” said Sawyer. “It doesn’t mean it’s an appropriate level… in terms of the rigor or the pace or whatnot.”

“We’re trying to make sure we’re providing enriching, appropriately-challenging coursework, regardless of what it’s labeled. We have to continue to consider what makes sense for our children and their course of studies,” he said.

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