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Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

To AP, or not to AP, that is the question.....

Heard around town: why is Melrose High now offering Advanced Placement (AP) classes to underclassmen and why are more students in all grades being encouraged to participate in AP offerings? Great question!  If parents or community members want the facts around this decision, please get in touch with Principal Farrell, Department Chairs, or Guidance – they are happy to talk with you. In the meantime, here are some thoughts from my perspective (as parent of a Class of 2014 college grad, rising college sophomore, and HS junior)………

·      What is AP? AP courses are standardized courses/tests in a variety of subjects that are provided by The College Board (a non-profit who also brings us the SAT) and that are expected to reflect extensive rigor. Here’s the link: http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/home.

·      Why is it important? Because when colleges look at a student’s application, one criterion for admittance decisions is “Rigor of Secondary School Record” and all colleges look at it. To see how it might work, check out one of my go-to college databases, www.collegedata.com, and type in any school. Click on the “Admissions” tab and scroll down to “Selection of Students.” The rigor criterion is almost always in the “Very Important” column. A May 4th Boston Globe article explains this concept very well; find it here: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/regionals/west/2014/05/03/exams-near-more-students-ready-for-challenge/Nsk2jWPTPyHgjdt9NDcKtN/story.html.

·      How would a college measure “Rigor of Secondary School Record?” One way is to look at a student’s course selections to assess the level at which success is probable and determining whether the student chose to accept the challenge of more rigorous work (i.e. if a student took 9th gr. English CP and earned an A, did the student move up to the Honors level in 10th gr.?). With AP, colleges will look at what AP courses the school offers, assess whether a student might have been successful in that placement, and if so, whether it was chosen.

·      What if MHS doesn’t offer as many AP’s as other high schools? Colleges approach this quandary by reviewing the School Profile (find MHS’s here: http://melrosehigh.melroseschools.com/our-school/2013-2014-school-profile/), and considering whether a student took rigorous courses within what a school offers. The profile is updated each year and sent to each college by the guidance dept. in conjunction with each application.

·      Should my child bulk up on AP courses just to be competitive in the application process? Parents should talk to their child about their interests and aspirations. (Guidance does this too.) Does your child really like math? Foreign language? Art? When you look at his/her middle school grades, are there ways to challenge him/her in certain areas when entering 9th grade? Parents should partner with guidance and the student to ensure that all credit requirements are met for graduation while considering what the student enjoys and encouraging the student to challenge him/herself in areas where evidence shows he/she can succeed.

·      What should parents expect from MHS? The high school should be offering a variety of courses that provide opportunities at all levels in as many subject areas as possible (within fiscal constraints). Teachers should be as well-trained as possible to provide the kind of instruction that will support good outcomes on the AP exams.


Over the years, I’ve heard folks opine that the high school wasn’t rigorous enough, and one way administrators are addressing that is by offering more AP courses at a wider variety of grade levels. As parents we often struggle with how to best help our children – more pressure or less rigor? Instead, maybe we should be asking MHS staff, our children, and ourselves “What are the most appropriate courses for my student, and what is the right level for each and every one?” In the end, the result should be a graduating senior who has found an authentic path paired with a transcript and college application that showcase each student’s unique skills and abilities. That’s what colleges want to see, and more importantly, that’s what makes for a rewarding next step in life’s big adventure.