Advanced-Placement classes challenge students and reduce cost of college, by 8-18 Media

During the senior year of high school, students typically are able to take a lighter academic load. They’ve worked hard the past three years and have sent their academic transcripts to colleges in which they are interested, so they have the luxury of focusing a bit less on academics and more on the friends they will soon leave.

But this is not the case for seniors in Advanced-Placement classes.
“Being a senior, we’re all just trying to relax and don’t really care about high school anymore,” said eighteen-year-old Kaitlin Hares, who graduated in June from Ishpeming High School. “But this class usually demands that we stay in thinking mode and we’re not really slacking off.”
The class that Hares is referring to is the Advanced-Placement English class she took her senior year.
The Advanced Placement, or AP, program is run by the College Board, an international non-profit educational institution. According to the College Board Web site, the AP program is a “cooperative educational endeavor between secondary schools and colleges and universities.” It started in 1955 and has “provided motivated high school students with the opportunity to take college-level courses in a high school setting.”
In addition to learning advanced material, students can gain college credit by passing a final national exam at the end of the course.
For the past ten years, IHS has offered AP Chemistry and AP Language and Composition, commonly referred to as AP English. Many other AP classes—from physics to history to calculus—are offered at high schools in the U.P. and nationwide.
Tim Clancy has taught the AP English class at IHS since its inception. Because there is no AP English textbook, he created the course from scratch, choosing materials from a variety of sources. The level of reading is similar to that of a college freshman composition class. Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Martin Luther King’s famous letter from the Birmingham Jail are included in the course. Clancy likes the freedom to use contemporary essays.
“I can go into the library and pull a New Yorker off the shelf, or any good contemporary magazine, and I can pull writing out of that and use it as material in my classroom,” he said. “Whereas if I’m teaching a literature course, I could still do that but I’m limited (to a set curriculum).”
But the pieces that are included aren’t guaranteed to be on the exam.
“The test itself sometimes throws kids when they’ll get the test and there will be something on there that’s kind of out in left field,” Clancy said. “The good thing about that is that it’s left field for everybody across the country, so that levels the playing field.”
A panel of AP English teachers from around the country grades the exam. It consists of essays and multiple-choice questions, and is taken during a three-hour period, typically in the first week of May. This year the exam was held on May 1, though students won’t receive their results until mid to late summer.
“The College Board expects students to have a pretty good facility with a lot of literary terminology, some of which is fairly obscure and that you won’t encounter anywhere else,” Clancy said.
Eighteen-year-old Kohl Nelson, also a recent AP English student and IHS grad, said that the terminology was incorporated into daily discussions.
“We do a lot of reading and interpreting what the author is trying to express, (through) his techniques, his tone, diction, syntax,” he said.
Students beginning the class may find these terms unfamiliar or intimidating, but they are eager and motivated to learn. Clancy said this is a perk of being an AP teacher.
“It’s one of my plums for the day,” he said. “Not that I like my other students in my other classes any less, but it’s enjoyable for a teacher to have students with ability who are motivated and who will accept challenges willingly.”
The students also have to be willing to work independently.
“I don’t have the luxury of one-on-one with everybody,” Clancy said. “I don’t have that small of a class. So I’m expecting them to invest more time on their own on a given piece of writing than a student in another class simply because it’s expected in an AP class.”
Nelson enjoyed the independent work of AP English.
“It’s certainly more stimulating and interesting,” he said. “You can express more of an opinion and such in AP English.”
The students in AP classes aren’t required to take the AP exams. Clancy said that half of his English class this year did. They will find out this summer if they passed.
For Hares, her No. 1 motive in taking AP English was to pass the exam. To take the exam, she had to pay $82. If she passes, she’ll receive credit for freshman English at Northern Michigan University where she will attend this fall. She will also save $888 in tuition.
Along with students and teachers, the school district as a whole benefits from Advanced-Placement classes.
“A student looking around for a school to go to sees a school that’s got an AP curriculum versus one that doesn’t,” Clancy said. “If it’s a student or a family that’s interested in a higher level of academic achievement, they’ll pick the school that provides AP.
“On another level, if you’ve got an AP class you’ve got a ready-made group of students that you can count on for things other than reading and writing. You can go to an AP class and say, ‘OK, I need some responsible people to speak for the school. I need some responsible people to write for the school. I need some responsible people to perform some kind of service.’ Generally you’re going to find some students in that class that are motivated and articulate and all those good things you want in a student.”
Even if students don’t take the exam, or don’t pass, their time is not wasted.
“I always poll my students who go to college and I ask them, ‘How’s it going in your English classes? What are your writing classes like?’ They almost always say, ‘I’m glad I took AP because it’s making it a lot easier for me,’ ” Clancy said.
Nelson said even if he doesn’t pass the exam his time was well spent.
“It’s a learning experience, and learning is never wasted,” he said.
—8-18 Media

Editor’s Note: This story was written by Claire Smith, seventeen, and Andrew LaCombe, sixteen, with contributions from Maya Hardie, fourteen, Hanna Schafer-Nelson, fourteen, and Ashly Choin, twelve.

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