Course selection: from AP to DC

Registration for next year’s classes is open, and maybe you are one of the many students looking at taking an AP class. AP Classes and exams have a lot to offer students but, as you may have noticed from next year’s available classes, we no longer have as large a selection to choose from.

According to school counselor Mr. Patrick Hurley, “all schools are in this process right now” of shifting many AP courses to dual credit. AP classes were implemented in order to give high school students the ability to get more college credit, but since then, nearby resources like MCC have opened the door “to give students alternate avenues” to higher-level courses and to utilize the fact that we are “a unique county that has so many business partners that want to work with our students.”

Thus, Cary Grove and other high schools are now seeking to transition from a more national system to a more localized system which, like AP, gives students experience both in preparation for higher education and for careers, but also creates mutually beneficial relationships between students and the community.

This approach is especially beneficial because it widens the opportunities available to students. While AP tries to create a completely unbiased, international system for determining proficiency, this isn’t really possible for many courses, and many students are left behind because of this.

Industrial and technical fields are not only hard to scale, but more immediately, they are not even included in the 36 courses offered by The College Board. These fields are hugely beneficial to students and the community, and not having options for students to get experience in it is a problem, which is being mitigated by the implementation of dual-credit courses.

Additionally, art classes and other liberal arts are popular amongst students, but also notoriously subjective and difficult for a panel of judges far removed from the classroom to judge. Because of this, there is a very limited number of courses in these fields, with a measly three for the arts, arguably one of the most diverse tracks, and two in English. Even though there may be AP options available, its weaknesses make it a less-than-ideal situation for students. 

Accordingly, these programs in industry and liberal arts have definitely seen a great increase in dual-credit offerings to replace and even add to the previous AP curriculum. While they may be difficult and not traditionally academic, they are also extremely important. Mr. Hurley considers classes like speech to be some of “the most valuable classes anyone can take in high school,” and that the opportunity to earn dual credit for it is a great advantage. 

“I love the opportunities that come with [dual credit classes],” Mr. Hurley said. “My hope is just that as we become more proficient in this, we offer more diverse – even than we have now – offerings for students to be able to dip their toes into a different experience in a really supportive environment.” 

That is one of the biggest reasons why a diverse course selection of advanced courses is important, whether it is AP or dual credit. Being able to explore different fields allows for informed decisions about one’s future, so that students are less likely to change their minds after high school, which can be a costly decision. Through both courses, students can “dip their toes in and see… ‘What is college really like? What can I expect from my next step?’”

Sure, these classes are not perfect representations of higher education, but that is not a bad thing either. The differences that do exist can help create a smooth transition between high school and higher education because you learn the knowledge and skills of those higher-level classes while still having the smaller classes and greater degree of support that often isn’t available in higher education. 

But that doesn’t just mean that these courses are only helpful for those seeking higher education. Regardless of where one ends up, specialization makes one more valuable to potential employers. 

“There’s a very good chance that when you get out of school, if you jumped into an apprenticeship, for instance, they would send you back to school” to get a specialty, Mr Hurley said, recalling a mechanic who furthered his career by attaining a specialty in German imports. Since employers in the area have good relationships with the local schools, these courses are highly encouraged and utilized by employers and employees, and by taking these classes at MCC, for example, students can get a head start on gaining a specialty and being able to take on responsibilities that others can’t to make themselves inexpendable. 

Other useful programs offered by Cary-Grove to consider are the PCCS classes at MCC, which includes CNA, fire science, and criminal justice programs. While they are not dual credit, students are still enrolled in both Cary-Grove and MCC so they are not just taking a one-off class, but instead working towards a professional certificate or associates degree. 

“It’s pretty amazing that, if you want to be a firefighter […] by the end of your senior year you’ve already filled out and done the certification, and now you can work right away,” Mr. Hurley said.

Another key part of this decision to change from AP to dual credit is to encourage students. For most students, the transition from AP to dual credit is well received, as it is much less stressful. 

“[AP classes] are not right for everybody,” Mr. Hurley said. “I think that some students get intimidated by the fact that you have to take a high-stakes test at the end.” 

Some may doubt the effectiveness of the AP tests, since “test scores do not determine success. It’s rigor, strength of schedule and GPA,” Mr. Hurley said. Furthermore, in AP classes, an entire year’s worth of work can often feel like a waste if a student doesn’t do well on the AP test, and that is a very intimidating idea. Meanwhile, for dual credit, “the work you do is the grade you earn, and as long as that earned grade reflects positively, then you earn college credit.”

But while there are fundamental differences to the two systems, it is undeniable that the associations we have, whether warranted or not, are also key factors in our likeliness to commit to a decision. For AP classes, “the moniker of a college-level class” “puts off” some people. 

These two differences, in tandem, have made “more and more students […] open to taking dual credit classes than maybe AP in the past.”

So what exactly would this transition look like? For the most part, it would not be terribly difficult. This is because they have a lot of similarities in the course work. 

“I would imagine that since they’re both college level courses, they’d be pretty similar in scope,” Mr. Hurley said.

If anything, Dual Credit is easier for students, even without considering the actual AP test. This is because dual credit courses have a longer timeline. Since AP has a test at the end, a lot of class time is dedicated to reviewing for the test. This makes it much more intense as in an AP test one might learn “10 months worth of content in nine months as opposed to dual credit classes where you’d have the full 10 months to learn.” It may not seem like a lot, but that one month can be the difference between a having a grasp on the subject and floundering. 

This all begs the question- why are we only now making this change? It is not unwillingness on the side of MCC, which has been doing this for a “long time” and has partnered with many high schools. If anything, it was in some ways “hesitance on [Cary Grove’s] part because it takes a brave first step” to make the transition, but “our leadership now kind of understands that college might not be for everyone” and that there are alternate avenues to success that necessitate this change in course offerings.

But just in case there are any die hard fans of AP classes out there – don’t worry. They may be losing some ground, but “it would be a long, long time before we ever decided not to offer AP,” Mr. Hurley said. “It’s a great opportunity,” especially for high achieving students “and I don’t think we would want to take away an opportunity from our students.”