AP, IB, and the pros of rigorous high school study

When high school students take Advanced Placement courses, which can give them college credit for courses they complete in high school, “You learn more at a faster pace, and you are bored less often than you would be in a regular class,” the Kaneland Krier quotes senior Betsy Mills as saying. The AP classes “are more mentally challenging, and they are more rewarding when you do well.”

The Krier is the student newspapaper at Kaneland High School in Maple Park, Illinois, in the far-western suburbs of Chicago. But Ms Mills’ sentiments mirror those expressed by other AP students and teachers across the nation.

“We needed to go in that direction for those students who sometimes were just bored with traditional academic offerings but also looking at the way in which young people truly learn and the fact that they do need to graduate with these 21st-century skills,” the Daily Press in Newport News, Virginia, quoted Donna Woods, executive director of school leadership for Hampton City Schools, as saying.

We recognized that we needed to change the way that we were doing business to ensure that students were college-, career- and life-ready. It’s also important as part of that work to make sure you bring all students with you, that even though we have a 90-plus graduation rate, we’re not at 100. And so as we examine why some students were leaving, it led us to look at developing a model that would meet the needs of all students.

That includes those who need a more intensive load, sometimes just to keep their interest. In addition to AP courses and the International Baccalaureate program, schools in the Newport News area are offering magnet programs at select high schools, academies for arts, sciences, and other specialties within high schools, and tracks of study that are centered on career pathways.

“Working with our various business and workforce development, they often talk about the need of the community going forward,” the paper quoted Brian Nichols, chief academic officer for Newport News Public Schools, as saying. “Well, how are we addressing that need? We have almost 30,000 kids. We’d like them to stay here and contribute here and do those kind of things, so we add programs connected to it.”

In some high schools, taking AP courses will automatically adjust a student’s GPA, say, by counting the grade received in the AP class higher. Although this short-term benefit might be significant in the eyes of some students, it’s really not the chief benefit of AP or IB programs.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, for instance, one school in particular is pushing the IB diploma program, which offers students more rigorous coursework than even AP, since IB is actually a separate diploma program rather than a set of courses. School leaders see college-prep.

“College isn’t a culture shock for these kids,” the Albuquerque Journal quoted Ann Goswick, the IB coordinator for Sandia High School, as saying. The school is the only one in the Albuquerque Public Schools district that offers the IB program. “They are taking school seriously. … They’re very engaged.”

And students see other, more intangible, benefits: “It’s a private school education for free,” the paper quoted one senior as saying about the IB program at Sandia, which she said featured a group of “tight-knit” and “highly motivated” students.

IB Basics

Launched 49 years ago in Switzerland, the IB diploma is currently granted in 3,104 schools across 147 countries. The International Baccalaureate, a nonprofit educational foundation, also provides programs for pre-K, elementary, and middle school students.

The IB Diploma Program covers six subject areas:

  1. language and literature
  2. second language
  3. individuals and societies (economics, philosophy, history, etc.)
  4. sciences
  5. math
  6. electives

and three core requirements:

  1. Theory of Knowledge: develops inquiry and critical thinking skills
  2. Extended Essay: a research project, culminating in a 4,000-word paper
  3. Creativity, Action, Service: minimum 150 hours of sports or fitness, artistic pursuits, and community service each year

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.