Every year, students enrolled in rigorous Advanced Placement courses, offered in high schools across the nation, take corresponding exams to assess their knowledge of the material learned over the course of the year. As Nantucket High School has a smaller than average pool of students who are willing to take on these challenges, the scores of these exams tend to vary. This most recent 2016-2017 school year, 15 AP courses were offered at NHS through a classroom experience or through virtual high school. Similar to any other year, the scores on these exams are based on a variety of factors, and there is no single answer to what leads to good or bad average scores.
This most recent year, the results for the exams were varied, and there were both minor and drastic changes to the average scores on the exams. A large portion of what accounts for the perhaps underpreparedness felt by students during the exam is the extensive course material. Many other schools take advantage of their early starting dates to get an early start on the immense amount of curriculum to be covered in early or mid August. However, Nantucket High Schools’ relatively late start in September serves as a setback, as other schools can be a month ahead in terms of AP curriculum. Even with a late or early start in the school year, AP level-material is difficult to fully cover.
“You can never get through it all. You never do,” AP Spanish teacher Kate Hickson said. “You just have to cherry pick and hit the high spots. In AP Spanish, there are six global themes, but they overlap each other. You don’t finish one theme and start the next, each topic has to do with another. You have to hit the high spots and cover what you can,” she reiterated.
This is a problem faced by both teachers and students, having such a condensed period of time to cover immense curriculum. On another note, students coming into AP classes may feel nervous or anxious, not knowing what to expect from a college-level course.
“I think, in the past few years,” AP English Language and Composition teacher Stacey Edzwald said, “We as a school have made a push to encourage people to try an AP, possibly when they didn’t necessarily think of that, so I think more people are taking APs that had not taken honors or had not been as prepared, so I think that does contribute to the scores. However, I think those people are better prepared for college, and I think they did as well as they could in previous years.”
Students often have trouble transitioning from an honors or CP level course into one of these challenging courses, and will certainly find the AP exam much different from what they have experienced in the past. In particular, sophomores or juniors trying AP classes for the first time can have a tough transition, with a substantial change in workload, pace, and the style of the class.
“The tests, for me, are hard because it is more application based,” said first-time AP Biology student Nischal Khatri. “Honors Biology was a lot of memorization and switching to application-based questions is difficult, but I feel that overtime, by quarter two or three, you will adapt to it.”
Of course, the process of getting used to the difficulty of an AP course proves to be tough for students, but will eventually benefit them, as they will be more prepared for classes in institutions of higher education. “There is no one simple answer as to what will impact an average score on an AP exam, because we are a small and diverse population,” said AP Calculus teacher Dr. Jedediyah Williams, “and no large-scale generalization can be made.”
For example, the average for the AP Calculus exam underwent a major change, going from 1.88 (2016) to 3.00 (2017), but no one factor defines this change. Each class has different students who all have different backgrounds, so they are not suitable for comparison. Every AP class’ students are dedicated workers who are uniquely brilliant, and predicting how each class will perform on the exam is virtually impossible. This philosophy can be applied to any change in scores: AP History’s average score went from a 3.75 (2016) to a 2.64 (2017), decreasing by a margin of 1.11, while contrastly, AP Environmental Sciences’s average score increased from 2.64 (2016) to 4.65 (2017). It is a slippery slope to judge the student body on scores for specific tests, then.
Similar to the SAT, a student’s performance on a 3-4 hour test does not exhibit how well they received the curriculum. It comes down to how comfortable students are with the test format, and what happens on the test day, not necessarily how much information they absorbed over the course of the year. The AP exams are designed to assess knowledge gained from the course, but they measure much more than that.
“It’s a dangerous pressure to apply stats before students.” Dr. Williams said. “How a student’s performance will affect the average score should not be a factor in a teacher recommending whether or not a student should take an AP course. If you offer criticism on a single number every year, you’re encouraging that their potential impact on the average score on the exam should be a factor in their enrollment in the course.”
Students should focus on the test because it will ultimately help them with future tests with similar style, but should not exclusively stress that this exam will indicate mastery of the course and will define part of themselves as students.
This year, like any other, there are an abundance of new students enrolled in AP courses, and NHS hopes to see quality scores that demonstrate the AP students’ dedication to the curriculum, but to encourage eagerness to succeed in these types of courses regardless of a final number as well.