AP’s Phasing Out and What That Will Mean


AP courses at OHS are being “phased out” and replaced with alternative classes. What does this mean for students?

Advanced placement classes with horrifying three-hour-long exams bring terror to all who are transitioning into or attending high school. With a broad variety of subjects ranging from AP Statistics to AP Music Theory,  AP courses and exams seem to be a staple of high school life. In recent years, however, some schools have begun to phase out Ap courses. According to Inside Higher Ed, eight private high schools in Washington made the decision to cut their AP’s in 2018. But what exactly does any of this mean, and what effects will it have on high school students?


What are AP Classes and Why do Students Take Them?

AP stands for Advanced Placement and is a program run by the College Board, a non-profit organization. Created in the mid-1950s, AP courses allow students to take special high school courses that can qualify them for higher-level courses in college as well as help them to earn college credit. The courses are designed to give students the experience of a beginning-level college course while still being in high school. Now, there are a total of 38 AP subjects available, with some of the most popular being AP English Language and Composition, AP United States History, and AP Psychology.  

Students who take AP courses generally go on to complete the corresponding AP exam offered in May. According to the College Board,  around 1.21 million students took over 4.1 million AP exams in 2020. If you are new to high school, you may be wondering what exactly is an AP exam? An AP exam is a test of everything that students have learned while taking an AP class. These exams are usually multiple-choice, with either short response questions or full essays. The exams are scored between a 1 and a 5, with scores above 3 considered passing. According to most high schools, students that have passed the exams can earn college credit. Since some colleges give credit for AP classes taken in high school, scoring high AP exam scores can make it possible for students to graduate from certain colleges such as Harvard, Princeton, or Rice University earlier. AP exam scores can also enable students to skip over introductory level courses and requirements required for majors or core classes. 


What Does “Phasing Out”  and Why is it Happening?

The phasing out process at OHS first began with Humanities. “Several years ago, we realized that the AP World History class didn’t have high enrollment, and we didn’t see a solid reason to keep it,” says Dr. Anthony Smith, Assistant Head of School. “Instead we thought it would make more sense to have Dr. Gonzales, who had been teaching AP World History, teach something similar to what he would teach in a college environment. So that’s when he created his class Globalization and Imperial Exchange.” In addition to phasing in an alternative to AP World History, OHS also offers other alternative courses for subjects such as English. “We’ve also phased in alternative courses to AP English Language and Composition, which means AP English Language and Composition still exists, but you can now take two other alternative options.” 

The alternative courses are intended to provide a narrower focus and encourage deeper learning rather than offer a broad overview of the subject geared towards the AP exam. “I think a positive way to think about this is that we can start to teach classes that are more exciting for OHS students and better attuned to what they’re learning in the rest of school. We would be able to introduce students to interesting ways of approaching subjects that we feel aren’t always captured in AP courses,” says Dr. Smith. “AP courses are good, but they’re structured more towards the AP test. That test is tied to more practical benefits, particularly in relation to college credit as opposed to college admissions. The AP courses are constrained by the test in a variety of different ways depending on the nature of the subject itself. And if you remove that, then you can provide an opportunity for teachers to teach subjects in the best possible way.” 


What Will the Phasing Out of AP’s Mean?

In place of these “phased out” AP classes, alternative courses at the same level of complexity and covering the same concepts as AP courses can be taken. These alternative courses have the same level of difficulty as AP classes, but dive deeper into certain elements or aspects of the subject instead of having the main goal of just trying to prepare for the AP test that corresponds to the course. For example at OHS, students currently have the option to take American Culture and Society as an alternative to AP U.S History. Similarly, AP Spanish and AP Latin have been replaced by Latin American and Iberian Literatures and Cultures and Latin Prose and Poetry, respectively. 

As for whether there are any disadvantages to taking an alternative to an AP course, Dr. Smith says, “ We’ve been phasing in new courses, and we do not believe that they have had a negative effect on college admissions. There should be no negative effect on college admissions if you decide to take the AP-equivalent courses.” 

Students are currently able to take AP exams for college credit, but will also have the opportunity to take new, interesting courses that explore subjects in depth. The phasing out process for AP courses will be carried out gradually and thoughtfully. “We don’t want anyone to be surprised by what we do. We want everything to make sense to all of the students that could be affected by changes.” For related information regarding new OHS courses, read “Pixel’s Guide to the New Courses at the OHS”.