Beyond AP

Over the past several years Landon has been in discussion with seven other area independent schools (Holton-Arms School, Georgetown Day School, Maret School, National Cathedral School, Potomac School, St. Albans School and Sidwell Friends School) regarding the role of Advanced Placement (AP) courses in our Upper Schools.

All eight schools are now committing to moving beyond the AP course offerings by the 2022–23 school year at the latest.  Instead, our talented faculty will take ownership of designing engaging, rigorous and mission-oriented courses for our most capable students instead of an outside agency (The College Board), which currently prescribes a set curriculum for all AP courses.

Teachers are the most essential ingredient to learning and intellectual engagement.  There are great teachers who work with the AP, and great teachers who don’t.  We are simply refusing to peg our performance to how well a student does on a test.  Rather, we are seeking to construct courses that are relevant to the expertise of our faculty and the mission of our school community. 

We know from the many other excellent independent schools that have moved beyond the AP offerings over the past two decades that this move has resulted in a more dynamic curriculum for students with no impact on their college placement. 

From New England boarding schools such as Choate Rosemary Hall to New York City schools such as the Dalton School to boys’ schools such as the Haverford School, independent schools have been reclaiming their curriculum and delivering a deeper and more meaningful educational experience to their students by moving beyond the AP offerings.

This move beyond APs moves us toward fulfilling two of the action steps of our Strategic Plan — to ensure our curriculum is consistent with the very best in boys’ education and our boys’ overall cognitive, social and emotional well-being.

Please see below to read a joint statement on the subject from the heads of school of the eight area institutions moving beyond APs, as well as answers to some frequently asked questions.

Joint Announcement - June 18, 2018

Today, eight Washington-area independent schools — Georgetown Day, Holton-Arms, Landon, Maret, National Cathedral, Potomac, St. Albans, and Sidwell Friends — announce our shared commitment to eliminate Advanced Placement (AP) courses from our curricula by 2022. As the heads of these schools, we have been meeting regularly over the past several years to discuss educational research and compare experience. One topic on which we all agree is the diminished utility of AP courses and the desirability of developing our own advanced courses that more effectively address our students’ needs and interests.

Collectively, we believe a curriculum oriented toward collaborative, experiential, and interdisciplinary learning will not only better prepare our students for college and their professional futures, but also result in more engaging programs for both students and faculty. We expect this approach will appeal to students’ innate curiosity, increase their motivation, and fuel their love of learning.

When introduced in the early 1950s, the AP program was intended to offer particularly ambitious students an opportunity to pursue and receive credit for college-level work, allowing them to graduate from college early. Yet today, few college students graduate in less than four years. Further, each college has its own policy as to how, or if, credit is awarded for AP tests, with some top schools no longer offering any credit at all. Nevertheless, many of our students feel compelled to take AP courses in the mistaken belief that failing to do so may hurt their college prospects.

In truth, with nearly 40% of high school students now taking these courses, the AP designation has become less noteworthy to college admissions officers. Our own survey of almost 150 colleges and universities confirms this. We have been assured by admissions officers that this change will have no adverse impact on our students. The real question for colleges is not whether applicants have taken AP courses, but whether they have availed themselves of their high schools’ most demanding classes.

The perception that colleges demand AP courses leads many students, perhaps reluctantly, to pass up other classes they might find more intellectually transformative and rewarding. Concurrently, because AP tests loom so large, faculty teaching these courses often feel pressed to sacrifice in-depth inquiry in order to cover all the material likely to be included on the test. This runs counter to the fact that college courses demand critical thinking and rigorous analysis. AP courses, by contrast, often stress speed of assimilation and memorization. While we acknowledge the recent attempts to develop more skill-based AP tests, we are convinced that focusing on a timed standardized test does not promote inquiry or higher-level discussion among students. Moving away from AP courses will allow us to offer a wider variety of courses that are more rigorous and enriching, provide opportunities for authentic engagement with the world, and demonstrate respect for students’ intellectual curiosity and interests.

Finally, we have the benefit of the experience of the many other excellent and well-known boarding and day schools across the country that already have transitioned away from AP courses over the past decade. These schools report positive results, with no negative impact on college placement. Our aim in making this announcement jointly and publicly is to lend our collective voice to this important educational movement and help pave the way for other schools considering a similar change. We hope you will be as enthusiastic as we are about this important milestone.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which eight schools are making this announcement?

Georgetown Day School, Holton-Arms School, Landon School, Maret School, National Cathedral School, Potomac School, St. Albans School and Sidwell Friends School.

Why did these schools get together?

These particular schools have been meeting regularly over the past several years to discuss educational research and compare experience. One topic on which we all agree is the diminished utility of Advanced Placement courses.

What is the timeline for the change for all the schools?

Some schools already have eliminated APs and some will be eliminating them over time. All eight schools will no longer offer AP courses by the 2022–23 school year.

When is Landon moving beyond AP courses?

We will no longer offer AP courses beginning in the 2022–23 school year, but we may implement our “beyond AP” courses before that date based on our annual review of the curriculum.

Why are we moving beyond AP courses?

We believe a curriculum oriented toward engaging, rigorous and mission-oriented learning will better prepare our students for college and their lives as caring and responsible adults. Teachers are the most essential ingredient to learning and intellectual engagement.  There are great teachers who work with the AP, and great teachers who don’t.  We are simply refusing to peg our performance to how well a student does on a test.  Rather, we are seeking to construct courses that are relevant to the expertise of our faculty and the mission of our school community. 

In addition, Landon’s Strategic Plan calls on us to review our curriculum, including the role of Advanced Placement. This move beyond APs moves us toward fulfilling two of the action steps of the plan — to ensure our curriculum is consistent with the very best in boys’ education and our boys overall cognitive, social and emotional well-being.

Have other independent schools done this successfully?

We have the benefit of the experience of the many other excellent and well-known boarding and day schools across the country that already have moved beyond AP courses over the past decade. From New England boarding schools such as Philips Exeter and Choate to New York City private schools such as Dalton to boys’ schools such as Haverford and Kiski, schools all across the educational spectrum have replaced AP offerings with courses more aligned with their missions. These schools universally report positive results with no negative impact on college placement. None has reinstituted AP courses.

Do the faculty support this move beyond AP classes?

Yes. Because AP tests loom so large, faculty teaching these courses often feel pressed to sacrifice in-depth inquiry to cover all the material likely to be included on the test. This runs counter to the fact that college courses demand critical thinking and rigorous analysis, whereas AP courses often stress speed of assimilation and memorization. Moving beyond AP courses will allow our teachers to design and offer a wider variety of courses that are more rigorous and enriching, provide opportunities for our boys to have more authentic engagement with the world, and demonstrate respect for students’ intellectual curiosity and interests.

Will colleges penalize Landon for not offering APs?

Admissions officers have assured us that this change will have no adverse impact on our students. Colleges measure applicants based on the strength of the courses they have taken relative to the rigor of all courses offered at the school. Landon’s school profile, a key document in every school’s college admissions outreach, will communicate to colleges our most rigorous courses. We also know that each college has its own policy as to how, or if, credit is awarded for AP tests, with some top schools no longer offering any credit at all. Our own survey of almost 150 colleges and universities confirms this. This survey included schools from all sizes, public and private, liberal arts and research based.

What outreach are you doing with colleges and universities to advise them of the change?

Our college counselors are already working to ensure colleges and universities understand the unique features of Landon’s curriculum.

Once Landon moves beyond AP, how will students know which classes are as challenging as AP classes?

Our most challenging classes will be designated as “Accelerated.”

Without the designation, how will the colleges to which a student applies know he took courses as rigorous as AP courses?

Our most challenging courses will be designated as “Accelerated,” and a student’s transcript will indicate the level of courses taken. Admissions officers judge students on the strength of the courses they have taken relative to the rigor of all courses offered at the school. It is also standard practice among independent schools, including Landon, to provide colleges with “school profiles” that describe their academic programs and clearly communicate the difficulty of courses in each discipline.

Will Landon still offer AP tests?

Yes.

Will Landon offer AP test preparation?

No.

What will the impact be on students' weighted average?

Landon will continue to weight “Accelerated” classes the same as we have weighted AP classes.

What is the expected impact on students applying to college abroad?

Our college counselors are already working to ensure colleges and universities, both domestic and international, understand the unique features of Landon’s curriculum.

What will Landon offer in place of AP classes to provide particularly high-achieving students with opportunities and challenges?

Our faculty are excited to offer engaging, rigorous and mission-oriented classes that speak to our boys’ interests and passions. This move beyond APs moves us toward fulfilling two of the action steps of our Strategic Plan — to ensure our curriculum is consistent with the very best in boys’ education and our boys’ overall cognitive, social and emotional well-being.

If I have questions about this move beyond the AP curriculum, who should I contact? 

Please direct any questions you may have to Assistant Headmaster Charles Franklin at charles_franklin@landon.net.

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