Younger students enroll in advanced classes

By By Amna Farooqi, News Editor

In advanced classes, there are always those genius freshmen who get great grade, and are ahead of everyone. Their purpose, it seems, is to make everyone else feel stupid. But lately they seem to be increasing in number.

Within the past 10 years, the number of students taking honors and AP classes has significantly increased, as has the number of students taking on harder courses at younger ages. The total percentage of juniors and seniors taking APs has gone up from 73 percent in 2006 to 81 percent in 2009.

“Thirteen years ago [when I first started teaching], students came here [from middle school] to take Algebra 1 or Geometry,” Principal Joan Benz said. “[Now] it’s expected that they’ve completed and passed [the course before they come here].”

Montgomery County has set seven standards for students that deem them “college prepared.” They include a 1650 SAT score and at least one AP course before graduation with an exam score of at least three. However, more students are going above and beyond, taking multiple APs and at younger ages.

According to AP NSL teacher Matthew Schilling, in his first year teaching, there were 95 students taking AP NSL whereas this year, 216 students enrolled in 2009, most of them sophomores.

“I don’t think we’re that far away from AP being the new honors and honors being the new regular,” AP US History (AP USH) teacher Rodney Van Tassell said. “Some schools in the county don’t even offer regular classes anymore.”

One reason underclassmen are taking higher classes is because they are now being offered to more people. This year was the first year that AP USH was offered to freshmen, and some students feel that opening up APs to freshmen can be harmful.

“They’re taking it so fast, they need to slow down,” senior Perle N’kumu said. “When AP testing comes around they’re going to be exhausted.”

Some freshmen feel, however, that taking multiple APs doesn’t necessarily mean they will be overstressed and do poorly. According to Van Tassell, his AP USH freshmen are as good as the upperclassmen.

“[CHS] has gotten more rigorous,” Benz said. “[But] the rigor is excellent if kept in perspective. [Now] more students have the opportunities to enroll in AP and honors classes.”

According to freshman Colin Kincaid, who will take four APs as a sophomore, there’s no harm in taking it if the student knows he or she can handle it.

“I do it to challenge myself,” Kincaid said.

Another reason students do it is to improve their transcripts for college.

“Colleges are getting [more] selective and, from middle school, students have to seem as if they’ve challenged themselves and been well-rounded,” Benz said. “It’s important to have college-level skills and the AP classes challenge people to stretch their minds and be ready for life [after high school].”

Pressure from parents and students to do too much too well can lead students to feel overworked.

“It’s important for students to challenge themselves, but not to the point where they’re so frustrated they do something detrimental,” Benz said.

To many students, it now seems that the focus has shifted from learning to simply preparation. With MCPS setting certain standards for high schools with the High School Assessments, quarterly formative assessments, and other standardized tests, many feel that retaining knowledge is no longer as important as just getting a high GPA for college.

“In elementary school we did stuff to prepare for high school, and now [we’re preparing] for college,” Kincaid said. “It seems like we’re always preparing for ‘the next level.’”