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July 03, 2018

AP at the Castle:  A Balanced Approach to Learning

Fostering Community

There’s a debate going on in many schools across North America.  Educators, students, and parents are questioning the value of Advanced Placement (AP) courses.   The debate, long taken up by educators, is gaining broader momentum, spurred on by a recent Washington Post article jointly written by the heads of eight, elite Washington-area private schools.  The article was simply, but provocatively entitled, “Our Schools Will Get Rid of AP Courses.  Here’s Why.”

It’s important to acknowledge that many of the talking points addressed in the article are more pertinent to U.S. students and, to a certain extent, Canadian students applying to U.S. Colleges.  Nonetheless, the conversation is one worth having, and brings into focus the purpose of educating young people in the 21st century.

Advanced Placement courses are known for their rigour.  They are demanding and require commitment from students.  The upside of AP is that students learn and achieve at a first-year university level.  The downside, according to critics, is AP’s focus on breadth rather than depth.   There’s a lot to learn and a lot to memorize in these courses, so the standard criticism of AP is that content-heavy teaching sacrifices deeper inquiry in order to “cover” every topic that could be presented on the AP exam.  Having watched my daughter prepare for the AP U.S. History exam, I can attest to the literal mountain of cue cards that piled up on our dining room table as she painstakingly recorded every date, person, and event that she might need to recall.  AP critics will argue that she could have used all that time engaged in critical-thinking tasks rather than rote learning.

While I happen to agree with some of the arguments against AP, I also believe that not all AP courses are created equal, and caution against throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Our approach to AP at Trafalgar Castle is measured and thoughtful, providing our senior students with an opportunity to experience AP through a limited number of courses.  We don’t offer 10 or 20 AP courses.  We offer five:  Calculus AB, English Language, English Literature, Statistics, and Studio Art.  We have specifically chosen these five because we believe they provide our students with the challenge of learning at a higher level, while limiting the rote memorization that is more prevalent in other AP offerings.  So, for those students who are interested in tackling AP, we provide that opportunity in a meaningful way.

It’s important to note that academic rigour is not limited to our AP offerings.  Across all subject areas, our teachers develop courses that deepen students’ understanding and challenge them to think creatively, grapple with real-world problems, and perform with expertise and skill.  Law, World Issues, Biology, Economics, Drama – every one of our senior courses stretches and strengthens the critical thinking and problem-solving skills of our girls, thereby preparing them for post-secondary study.

As always at Trafalgar, we will continue to meet the needs of our students by searching the world for the best programs, applying a research-based understanding of how girls learn, and ensuring we develop future-ready learners.  Being small doesn’t mean we sacrifice anything when it comes to education.  In fact, we are small by design, and that is proving to serve our girls exceptionally well.

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