Singapore American School is committed to providing exceptional learning opportunities for the diverse needs and interests of our high school students. Beginning in 2012, SAS faculty and leadership conducted exhaustive research to ensure that our students are learning at the highest level possible, are prepared for college, and have mastered skills that will help them be successful in the current and future workforce. For the high school, this work resulted in a series of recommendations that were adopted in May 2014 as part of the school’s strategic plan. These recommendations were approved by the high school faculty, administration, superintendent, and board for implementation over the subsequent six years.
One of the specific adopted recommendations is introduction of advanced topic (AT) courses to supplement the current suite of rigorous courses at SAS. These AT courses give our high school students learning opportunities that are relevant, align to our desired student learning outcomes (DSLOs), and are recognized by colleges as a part of a rigorous and challenging course of study so they can successfully apply to some of the world’s most selective colleges.
Our research revealed that, while Advanced Placement (AP) courses are rigorous, some of these courses focus almost entirely on the acquisition of content knowledge, often at the expense of relevant, transferable skills and concepts. We found that many high schools are moving away from AP courses in favor of more relevant, interdisciplinary, project-based, yet equally rigorous AT courses. This shift allows high schools to offer courses that are unique to their institution and helps distinguish their students in the college application process.
And while some schools are eliminating AP courses entirely, we also recognize both the value of many Advanced Placement courses, especially as the College Board has rewritten a number of them, and the deep culture that SAS has regarding our AP curriculum. It is for this reason that our strategic plan calls for the implementation of SAS AT courses alongside high quality AP courses that have been vetted and approved by our vetting team of administration, counselors, teachers and admissions representatives. AT and AP together form our advanced studies offerings.
To ensure that our students are well served by our advanced studies strategy, the high school administration interviewed over one hundred college admissions officers. Those officers consistently supported the creation of AT courses at SAS. Many of these colleges also strongly recommended that we limit the number of AP courses our students could take. If students take fewer APs, they have more room in their schedules to pursue classes and extracurricular activities that allow them to develop their future-ready skills and demonstrate their specific interest or passion. The AP cap of seven courses will help our students to personalize their learning, and stand out in the college admission process.
Since 2014, the SAS high school faculty and leadership have been working on the development of new SAS course offerings that will include AT courses alongside our AP courses. This includes a rigorous course development and vetting process, course mapping, dozens of departmental meetings to determine what courses will be developed, and the rollout of courses over a four-year period of time.
The 2016–17 course catalog introduced five new AT courses available for students, and in 2017–18, five more were introduced. Many AP courses are also available to students, while a few courses that are less relevant or effective have been designated for phasing out. With the SAS course offerings, all students are ensured a rigorous and relevant course of study, and increasingly that course of study is customized for each student’s interests and also ensures that the skills developed align to SAS standards and desired student learning outcomes (DSLO).
We are excited to offer these advanced studies courses for our high school students. And while we believe that the courses offered will be exciting and interesting for our students, this is a change for our families, so we offer the following frequently asked questions (FAQ) to help guide you through any questions you may have. We also encourage you to bring your questions to your high school counselor. They will gladly help provide clarity and are eager to help any family as they plan a course of study with their child.
- What is an Advanced Topic (AT) course?
- Why do we need AT courses?
- Are we moving towards an all AT academic program?
- How are AT courses vetted, and how do we ensure college-level rigor?
- Do AT courses have final assessments?
- With AT(s), are we expecting students to do in high school what they should be doing in college?
- Are students sacrificing breadth for depth?
- How many advanced studies courses will be available in the future?
- Why are we removing some AP courses?
- Which AP courses are being phased out?
- Can AT courses help prepare students for AP exams?
- If AP courses don't align with relevant learning, why are we keeping so many?
- Which AP exams do we plan to continue offering at SAS even after the corresponding AP courses are phased out?
- Some AP courses that are slated for removal are entry-level courses. Will the ATs that replace APs be as accessible as the ones that were replaced? What might be the implications of removing some of these entry-level AP courses?
- Why does the program planning guide state that you are replacing some AP courses in 2019-20 with AT courses of the same name (e.g. AT Literature, AT World History, AT Psychology, AT Human Geography)?
- It seems like colleges and universities are still asking for test scores and AP(s). Are colleges really changing their admissions analysis?
- Which universities have you spoken with about the shifts in advanced studies offerings?
- How are we working to make sure that colleges understand our AT courses?
- While AT courses are vetted by a committee and Yale-NUS consultants, how well received are AT courses by major US colleges?
- What is the role of APs in the college admissions process?
- Do students receive college credit for AP exams? What about AT courses?
- Which universities are partnering with SAS for AT courses?
- Which external consultants will be auditing our AT courses? Will such audits be benchmarked with other schools? If yes, which schools will be part of the benchmarking?
- Are other high-performing high schools moving away from AP? If so, what have their experiences been in terms of university acceptance rates?
- If colleges are aware of what ATs do, why are our seniors advised to write a pragraph in their applications to explain what ATs are?
- How will SAS prove that ATs will help our students in the admissions process?
- How long have the ATs been offered at SAS and what has been the feedback in terms of university admission? Has there been an increase in number of AT students getting in?
- How are our advanced studies offerings factored into the admissions practices in various countries?
- Will students planning to attend university in the UK have the opportunity to sit for the AP exams needed to gain entrance?
- Are AT courses still valuable for a student who intends to go to college in the UK?
- Which courses receive an increased GPA weighting at SAS?
- Why do some AP courses receive a 0.25 GPA weighting increase at SAS while other AP courses receive a 0.5 increase?
- Which US colleges give AT courses a GPA "bump"?
- To what degree do GPA differences factor into admissions decisions at various universities to which our students apply?
- Why don't some rigorous courses like AT Multivariable Calculus and AT Globalization receive increased GPA weighting?
- Which SAS courses get increased GPA weighting in the college admissions process?
- The new AT subjects are exciting and impressive in achieving the DSLOs. For a student with limited time and other subjects on their plate, how do they cope in healthy ways?
- How many advanced studies courses does my child need to take?
- How many advanced studies courses should my child take?
- Can AT courses be used to fulfill department credit requirements, or are they elective courses?
- Are our students prepared for the challenges they will face in advanced studies courses?
- Which students can take an AT course?
- How do I know which AT courses are best for my child?
- Is there an Advanced Topics credit limit?
- With diverse outcomes for AT course takers, do we standardize grading rubrics? And, do we grade AT class on a curve?
- How do students gain the fundamental knowledge to do well in application in AT?
- STEM students may need more content knowledge (i.e., AP classes). Can we bring back the AP Math and Physics courses that the school plans to discontinue soon?
- In what ways can a student satisfy the Catalyst requirement?
- When should students take the SAS Catalyst Project?
- What is the AP Capstone Diploma?
- Can I still earn an AP Capstone Diploma with the remaining AP courses SAS offers?
- As all AT classes have culminating projects, why is the Catalyst Project required?
- Catalyst and Advanced Topics seem similar to what is offered in the IB program. Is SAS considering adopting the IB program?
- What will the advanced-level mathematics course sequence look like in the future?
- Will more AT courses be added in the arts or in computer science?
- How does the AT Seminar and AT Research and Catalyst differ from the last year's AP Seminar and AP Research?
- Questions about AT Computational Physics
- Questions about AT Performing Arts
- Questions about AT Kinesiology
- How do you evaluate teachers and their capabilities to deliver an advanced studies course? How do you ensure the quality and rigor of each teacher is upheld, especially if there are several sections of a course?
- Given all of the changes occurring in the academic program, how are you evaluating your program's success, specifically with regards to college admission results?
- How is the college counseling office being evaluated?