AP Courses: What’s in a Name?

We met with a group of Randolph-Macon Academy parents and “past parents” (people whose students graduated from our school) about three weeks ago.  Our purpose was to talk about how we could better market Randolph-Macon Academy in the Winchester area, but in the course of the discussions, the parents spent a lot of time telling us how our small private school had changed their children’s lives. It was an uplifting experience, of course, but our president, Maj Gen Henry Hobgood, and I were a bit puzzled by one of the comments at his table.

"They kept telling me ‘R-MA has a full high school program,’” he said after the focus group ended. “They said we have sports and clubs and community service opportunities, and that we have a full academic program. They said our Advanced Placement courses really are advanced.”

He and I were bemused by this comment. Obviously we have a full high school program; we’re a high school. And of course our Advanced Placement courses are advanced. That’s why they’re called…well, it’s why they’re called advanced! And I already knew they were truly a step up from the other courses; I had seen the difference in the work my son had to do for AP courses compared to the “regular” classes he was in as a freshman and sophomore.

Our Director of Enrollment Management, Dr. Pia Crandell, was less confused; she had long heard grumblings about some “advanced” courses being watered down. Then she forwarded me an e-newsletter that contained a link to the following article: http://community.thenest.com/cs/ks/forums/thread/52472692.aspx

And I began to understand as well.

Now the problem I see with looking intently at the AP scores alone is that most of us send our children to private school because we want them to learn HOW to think, not WHAT to think. We want them to be challenged. If I wanted my child taught to a test, I’d send him to public schools where they live and die by their standardized test scores—and what I mean by that is that their accreditation rests on those scores here in Virginia. I don’t mean it as a criticism of public schools; it is simply how the system is currently set up, much to the frustration of most people I know who work in public schools. They have a tough job for which I do not envy them at all.

Reading through the comments in the article by Sam Dillon appalled me even more as I learned that some schools were requiring all freshmen to take certain AP-level courses. That is not what AP was designed for; in my opinion it’s wrong to try to force every child to fit that niche.

Of course, this “watering down” is not occurring in every school in America, regardless of what the school’s AP scores say. And it’s not happening here at R-MA. I proudly agree with the other R-MA parents. Randolph-Macon Academy does indeed have a full high school program. And I challenge anyone who thinks otherwise to come to campus and sit in on a few classes.

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