WJ Student Pushed to Take APs

Julia Cinquegrani, Print Assistant News Editor

WJ’s push to increase student enrollment in Advanced Placement courses has become more noticeable this year, as WJ opened enrollment in AP United States Government and Politics (AP NSL) classes to non-APEX freshmen for the first time and eliminated all on-level English classes for twelfth grade students.

Dennis Reynolds, the head of the counseling department, said that AP classes boost the overall academic rigor of a school.

“Students are better served by schools with greater numbers of AP classes,” said Reynolds. “They raise the standards of other classes as well, as the high standard of work expected for AP classes trickles down to honors and on-level classes.”

However, many people worry that the school system places too much emphasis on AP classes and pressures students to take multiple AP classes every year. WJ offers 32 AP courses total, and last year 1,003 WJ students took a total of 2,163 AP tests.

“WJ has more AP classes than most other high schools in MCPS and across the country,” said Reynolds. “I was stunned by the amount of AP classes being taken here when I first moved to WJ [five years ago] from Watkins Mill High School.”

Students sometimes select AP courses because they feel that it is expected of them.

“Parents often pressure their kids to take AP classes,” said Reynolds. “There’s also a lot of peer-on-peer pressure among students to enroll in many AP classes every year, and college admissions counselors have come to expect students to have taken many AP courses while in high school.”

AP NSL traditionally has the highest student enrollment of any AP class at WJ. Starting this year, WJ freshmen who are not enrolled in APEX are allowed to take AP NSL during ninth grade. Before this change, only freshmen enrolled in APEX were eligible to take AP NSL.

Principal Christopher Garran and Ty Healey, the head of the Social Studies Department, made this change largely because of the high success rate of freshmen APEX students who took AP NSL in recent years. This year, approximately 60 non-APEX freshmen are enrolled in AP NSL, in addition to the 56 freshmen enrolled in the class through the APEX program.

“There are certainly more freshmen at WJ than the 50 or 60 kids in APEX who can handle taking AP NSL [in ninth grade],” said Healey. “We didn’t want to restrict the opportunities of other students just because they’re not in APEX.”

Another major change this year is the elimination of on-level twelfth grade English classes. Even though seniors are required to take an English class, now their only options are honors twelfth-grade English and AP Literature and Composition. Amy Vachon, the English department resource teacher, said that this change was made because only a minuscule number of WJ seniors typically enroll in on-level twelfth grade English classes.

“The new county curriculum was already the same for honors and on-level twelfth grade English classes,” said Vachon. “So few students registered for on-level twelfth grade English that we eliminated it. But by twelfth grade everyone should be able to handle an honors level English class.”

Not all county high schools have abolished regular twelfth grade English classes, but the practice appears to be growing.

“It’s not necessarily fair [to eliminate on-level twelfth grade English],” said junior Emily Stone, who is taking five AP classes this year.

“At WJ, I can understand doing it …. it’s not that surprising, but it sets a precedent for doing similar things to other subjects in other grades.”

Stone said that the workload of AP classes is certainly higher than that of other classes.

“Yet I feel like we’re not really learning very much [in AP classes],” said Stone. “Sometimes we’re just memorizing stuff for the AP test in May, which really distorts your priorities as a student.”

Karen Generose, an AP Latin teacher, said that it is stressful to teach the entire AP Latin curriculum before the AP test.

“There’s just so much Latin literature to cover . . . [sometimes] I have to go through it more quickly and not as in-depth as I’d like, in order to cover all the curriculum before the AP test,” said Generose. “It would be great if there were no AP test, and I could go as in-depth [with the literature] as I would like.”

Healey admitted that high school in general is more challenging than when he was in a high school student.

“High school’s a lot harder now than when I was in high school, because of the growth of AP classes,” said Healey.

Healey also questioned the validity of encouraging younger students to take AP courses at increasingly younger ages.

“Freshmen are 14-years-old. They can wait to start taking AP classes until they start transitioning through high school. What’s the rush?” said Healey.