This feature was first published in Journeys Winter 2018.

This article was written by Dr. Darin Fahrney, High School Principal, and Dr. Dennis Steigerwald, Center of Innovation Coordinator.

The AP Cap at SAS:
Starting with the class 
of 2021 (this year’s sophomores), students may take seven year-long equivalent AP courses. This cap has been put in place to encourage students to: 
    •    fill the gaps in and look beyond the AP program for ways to distinguish themselves academically 

    •    explore topics relevant to their interests and future pursuits 

    •    take courses that emphasize skills over content, provide opportunities 
to differentiate themselves, and end the competitive AP race

What is Advanced Studies?
Advanced Topic (AT) courses and Advanced Placement
(AP) courses together form our advanced studies offerings. More than 40 college-level courses give SAS students varied opportunities to learn different skills and topics, address different criteria for excellence, explore their own interests, and distinguish themselves from other applicants in the college admissions process. 

SAS embraced the Advanced Placement system when, in 1968, it offered AP English for the first time. Over the years, SAS expanded its AP offering, and in recent decades the vast majority of our high school students have taken at least one AP course. 

The benefits of the AP program at SAS are numerous: 
•  students can experience rigorous, college-level courses in small classes within a supportive high school environment 
•  universities worldwide recognize what “AP” means on a high school transcript 
•  students’ academic achievements may be validated through success on the external AP examinations 
•  students who score a three or higher on the exam may be able to transfer their AP credits, saving them time and money at college 

Over the last decade, however, SAS, like other top US schools, began to grapple with some potentially negative aspects of the AP program, including: 
•  lack of real-world relevance of some AP course material 
•  covering too much material too quickly at the expense of in-depth research, critical thinking, and transferable skills in some courses 
•  inflexibility in content and teaching style due to an external exam setting the agenda 
•  an “arms-race” mentality among students loading their schedules with APs and foregoing other interesting academic options 
•  a focus on doing well on a test rather than deeply exploring a subject and developing a passion for learning 
•  colleges looking for academic experiences beyond numerous AP courses in applicants’ transcripts 
•  AP courses no longer setting applicants apart on college applications, as around 40 percent of American high school students now take at least one AP course, up from 4 percent in the 1990s 

Today, top schools in the US are rethinking their reliance on the AP program, with some offering limited APs and others dropping APs altogether, while most have developed their own high-level courses. At SAS, keeping a variety of high-quality AP courses while developing our own AT courses is giving our students the best of both worlds. We are proud that our curriculum now: 
•  offers varied academic opportunities that match students’ interests, skills, and objectives 
•  allows students to take up to seven year-long equivalent AP courses and 14 AP exams including ve that may be taken
after completing a relevant AT course 
•  limits the pressure students may feel to take an unreasonable number of AP courses 
•  offers AT courses that capitalize on our location, interests, and expertise 
•  gives college applicants more ways to stand out from the crowd through unique AT experiences 
•  prepares students for the types of learning experiences and professional opportunities they will encounter after SAS 

In June 2018, eight private schools in the Washington, DC area issued a joint statement explaining their decision to drop all AP courses from their course offerings by 2022. “One topic on which we all agree,” the heads of schools say in the statement, “is the diminished utility of AP courses and the desirability of developing our own advanced courses that more effectively address our students’ needs and interests.” —Georgetown Day School, Holton-Arms School, Landon School, Maret School, National Cathedral School, Potomac School, St. Albans School, and Sidwell Friends School

Interesting Fact
Today, the three schools that helped found the Advanced Placement program— Lawrenceville School, Phillips Exeter Academy, and Phillips Academy Andover— have all moved away from it: Lawrenceville and Exeter do not offer any AP courses and Andover offers AP courses in math and science and its own advanced courses in other areas of study.

Syracuse University partnership
SAS has partnered with Syracuse University to offer students in some AT courses concurrent enrollment opportunities. The majority of students in AT Computational Physics, for instance, are concurrently enrolled in Syracuse University, earning university credits that may be transferred to other universities.

  • advanced studies
  • advanced topics
  • high school

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