Faculty Debate AP Week: Help or Hindrance?

Last May, Phillips Academy students missed approximately 3,000 classes in order to take around 900 Advanced Placement exams. On Monday night, John Rogers, Dean of Studies, led a faculty meeting to discuss possible ways of alleviating the academic schedule disruptions during the two weeks of AP exams. Suggestions included changing the academic schedule during AP weeks, limiting the number of AP exams that a student can take or allowing students to take only exams that are endorsed by the department, according to Patricia Russell, Chair of the Department of Natural Sciences. Andrew Housiaux, Instructor in Philosophy and Religious Studies, recalled several other ideas to minimize class disruption, including moving athletic practices earlier in the day, filling out registration information prior to exams and giving students class time off. While there are no formal proposals for changes this year, Russell anticipates that the Academic Council will try to agree on one in the near future. Kevin Cardozo, Head of the Chemistry Department, said, “It’s really hard to do anything [during the AP weeks].” He said that not only do many AP classes lose momentum during the AP weeks, but term-contained non-AP classes are especially affected as well from absent students. However, Russell said that PA has no control over the AP schedule, because CollegeBoard, a private company, schedules the exam dates nationally. Rogers said that faculty opinions ranged on the quality of AP examinations. He said, “In some cases, [the exams] match our curriculum closely, while in other areas they do not match well at all.” Cardozo added that the tests are not relevant to all of the impacted courses. “Some departments think the exams are worthwhile, while others think that they are useless,” he said. Chemistry, Physics and Calculus courses generally align well with AP exams, while English and History courses and exams do not, according to Russell. However, despite discrepancies between courses and tests, Rogers said PA students tend to take many AP exams, regardless of the relevance to their course load. Russell said that although the examinations were originally designed for seniors taking advanced courses to receive college credits, APs have since transformed into a tool to supplement college applications. Consequently, she said, students feel increased pressure to take the exams before senior year, even if the classes are not geared toward the tests. Rogers said one suggestion at the meeting was that faculty should discourage students from taking exams in areas that do not match their curriculum, which generally are the areas that are “less recognized by colleges in terms of awarding credits.”