APEX needs to reverse program changes

Nathan+Diehl+teaches+his+APEX+Biology+class.+APEX+Biology+9+is+one+of+the+few+cohorted+classes+that+is+offered+by+APEX%2C+along+with+APEX+English+9+and+10.

Photo by Seyun Park

Nathan Diehl teaches his APEX Biology class. APEX Biology 9 is one of the few cohorted classes that is offered by APEX, along with APEX English 9 and 10.

According to our school’s website, the APEX-Reach program is Walter Johnson’s “signature academic program” and we flaunt our APEX program like it is the pinnacle of all academic achievement. Yet, changes to the admissions process and the core structure of APEX have crippled its name and its reputation, and these changes must be reversed.

Since the APEX program was first started in 1996, it has held high standards for academic achievement and rigor. However, in the 2020-21 school year, the program’s admission process underwent significant changes. Whereas before, admissions were limited to 87 slots, now, any students who meet certain criteria are admitted, with no program cap.

Previously, applicants to the APEX program were subjected to much more rigorous requirements including: taking a standardized test, writing an essay, obtaining teacher recommendations, and submitting a list of extracurricular activities.

Today, the only criteria is that students have a 3.5 GPA in 7th grade and the first quarter of 8th grade, with no supplemental application materials accepted.

With these changes, 225 freshmen are in the newest APEX class, consisting of around 25% of the entire grade. The admissions process as a whole has been met with criticism from students who believe that it does not properly select the most qualified and ready students.

“The admissions process should be more strict so students don’t struggle within APEX due to being unprepared. A more thorough admissions system would weed out students who may have a high GPA, but are not necessarily prepared for or capable of being in APEX,” freshman in APEX Mia Halper said.

As another part of the new program, pathways have replaced old APEX requirements. With pathways, students must take AP courses in a chosen area of study (ie science, social studies).

This restricts the freedom of students who want to take different AP and honors courses to explore their interests and instead forces them to narrow their interests to one small content area in their freshman year and stick to that path all the way through senior year.

Students who elect not to take APEX have access to the exact same AP courses as students who are in APEX. The only thing “special” about the APEX program is that students have less freedom for course selection.

Although in their freshman and sophomore years, APEX cohorts some classes (there are separate classes for APEX Biology and APEX english, cohorted from Honors Biology and Honors English), once students get into their upperclassmen years, APEX has no special classes just for APEX students; APEX students take normal AP and honors courses.

In addition, the APEX requirement of a capstone class has been taken away. It required that students in their senior year do a research project which helps them apply all of the skills they have learned through APEX including reading comprehension and writing skills.

With no sizable difference between APEX and non-APEX students in their upperclassmen years, students have no incentive to be in APEX (especially given the restrictions that it places on course selection).

Given all these changes, it is no wonder that people are dropping out of APEX left, right, and straight down the middle. In an informal poll taken amongst ten APEX students, six expressed serious consideration of dropping out of APEX within the next year.

If APEX wants to be the signature academic program that Walter Johnson makes it out to be, it has to reverse its changes: making admissions selective to ensure students who are ready and willing to learn are selected, getting rid of pathways that restrict student freedom, and by having special courses for students in APEX, especially in junior and senior year.

Statement from writer:
As of February 2022, APEX now offers a changed “general education” pathway, which solely requires 9 AP courses for graduation, allowing for more freedom in course selection. Previously, the general education pathway required that students complete AP Research in junior year and AP Capstone in senior year.

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