Science Department introduces new AP policy

Fewer sophomores to be enrolled in AP sciences next year

Advanced Placement (AP) Physics 1 and AP Chemistry joined the ranks of AP Physics C: Mechanics, AP Biology, and the many other science electives offered in the 2023- 2024 school year. Sophomores and juniors populated AP classes together, solving problems, working on labs, and preparing for tests with their peers across grades. Next year, sophomores will be a rarer sight in either course: the updated program planning guide now designates AP Physics 1 and AP Chemistry as third-year science courses.

Upper School (US) Science Department Head Rachel Riemer explained the logic behind the department’s decision.

“Last year, when we started to look at the AP courses, our original thought was that they really should be junior-level courses.

Data collected by the AP science teachers this year showed that juniors were generally more prepared for the class, Ms. Riemer said.

“We’re finding that the juniors are more prepared for labs, more fluid in the way they work in the labs, and have a better set of self- advocacy skills,” she said. “We felt like for a majority of the students, having a second year of physical science that’s more lab-based is really in service of being ready for the pace and the depth of an AP course.”

These observations prompted the department to reconsider the required prerequisites for students taking AP classes, Ms. Riemer said.

“The standard should be two years of science, and the exception should be going into an AP without that second year.”

US Science Teacher Stephanie Guilmet said that students taking an AP science in their sophomore year often face a more drastic jump in expectations than those who have already experienced a year of physical science. Changing the wording of the requirements for AP courses allows potential students to be more aware of this shift in expectations, she said.

“The requirement gives the population— the parents, the students—the information that this course is taught at a level that we are expecting XYZ of skill sets,” Ms. Guilmet said. “We’re saying, ‘the people that succeed at the highest level in this class are ones that have had two years of science already, that have had that skill development, that lab experience, that math experience.’ It’s to establish that the course is taught to that level of student.”

The new system will account for exceptions. If the department deems a student to be at such a level, they will still allow the student to take an AP class, Ms. Guilmet said.

“We worked hard, as the current AP teachers, with the current ninth-grade team to identify a group of skills that we felt were necessary to succeed at the AP level, and then we used that as criteria to recommend students for different levels.”

Even if a student isn’t initially approved to take an AP class, there are still ways to move up, such as during the seven-week add/drop period at the start of the school year, Ms. Guilmet said.

“We really are proponents of self- advocacy. If you want to advocate for yourself that you think you can handle that level, then that’s a conversation you have with your advisor, your family, and ultimately the chair of the department.”

As scientists themselves, the department will continue to collect and analyze data, she said.

“We’re going to continue to get feedback, collect data, and sit down and look at the trends that are happening and see if we need to continue to modify the policy,” she said. “It’s going to be a constant learning process for us, for you, for families. We’re really trying to do what we think is best for the collective well-being of the students.”

Grant Du ’26, who is currently taking AP Physics 1, understands why the department felt the need to amend the policy, he said.

“I don’t think the changes are very unreasonable, as they were experimental in the first place,” he said. “I think it would be nice to still give 10th graders the option to take an AP science if they really desired it. Overall, I’m very glad I took AP Physics 1.”

Even though Sofia Egan ’26 is currently taking six academic classes, she said she doesn’t regret taking AP Chemistry this year.

“I would be learning so much less in a non-AP class, and I think that this is a much better fit for me.”

While Salar Sekhavat ’26, a student in AP Chemistry, acknowledges the Science Department’s concerns, he fears that the new policy may feel unfair to the vast majority of rising sophomores who will be unable to take an AP course, he said.

“I feel like it creates a sense of disillusionment where rising sophomores feel that they’re disadvantaged because the opportunities that we had have been shut off from them.”

David Guo ’27 is glad the department will still consider some sophomores for AP classes, he said.

“Some 10th graders would have the capability to complete those labs and succeed in an AP course in 10th grade,” he said. “It’s probable that more rising juniors would be more qualified, but I still feel that some rising 10th graders are still qualified.”

“We really are proponents of self- advocacy. If you want to advocate for yourself that you think you can handle that level, then that’s a conversation you have with your advisor, your family, and ultimately the chair of the department.”

— Rachel Riemer

 

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