To AP or not to AP, Menlo’s take on AP classes
In the spring of 2011, 295 Menlo students took a total of 704 AP exams. Of these, 73% scored a 4 or a 5.
Although AP classes are quite prevalent at Menlo, the faculty are constantly re-evaluating the necessity of these courses. Unlike some schools, such as Lick Wilmerding, who have stopped teaching AP classes completely, the Menlo faculty analyzes APs class by class. Some AP classes, like biology, are not offered at Menlo because they are “so dense in content that the only way to get through the curriculum would be for a teacher to lecture the students [while they] just sit there and take notes. There wouldn’t be time for in depth conversations [and] labs,” said Upper School Director John Schafer. Other classes, such as AP English Literature, are offered because the exam is “a skills based test. It doesn’t tell you that you have to read a certain book, so we like that,” Schafer said. Though many believe that AP classes should just be test preparation, “that has not been [Menlo's] experience,” Schafer said. For example, AP US History is a very content heavy class, but the teachers do not only focus on content. For example, students had the opportunity to spend several weeks reading a biography of a president. Students also work on a year long research paper, which the teachers feel is very important. Menlo emphasizes that AP classes don’t focus solely on preparing students for the AP exam but also teach important study skills. Another concern with AP classes is that students are choosing what classes to take based on if they are AP or not, rather than selecting classes that actually appeal to them. “I think that there is an expectation to take APs that I’ve never really questioned. Taking a certain number of APs was expected of me by my parents and myself,” sophomore Caroline Wheeler said.
This is often a concern because there are so many more AP classes in math and science than there are in the humanities. Students who are more interested in humanities often feel that they do not have an equal opportunity to take rigorous classes, so the administration has recently decided to increase the amount of honors options available in both History and English. They have altered some history electives, such as ideology and art history, in order to create challenging honors classes. Next fall, seniors will also have the option to take an honors English elective.
For the most part, students choose to take classes that interest them, but are overwhelmingly aware of the need to take a rigorous course load. Senior Jordan Shaw explained that “for the most part, I have picked my schedule because what I want to learn about overlaps with what I think colleges would want to see.” Sophomore Hunter Brown echoed Shaw’s thoughts, saying that “I definitely feel pressured to pick classes with a certain amount of rigor, [but] I don’t feel that I’ve ever had to decide between classes that I want to participate in and classes that will challenge me.”
Although there is a limited selection of humanities AP courses ,and Menlo has chosen not to offer a few of the more content-heavy APs, such as Euro, Menlo students do exceedingly well on the APs offered. “[When] you’re teaching, [...] it’s helpful to have a national standard [to base your curriculum on]. When your students do really well on the AP, you know you prepared them well for an experience that a lot of high school students across the country are having,” explained Schafer.