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Advanced High School Courses: A Primer for Parents

Posted on 02/08/2019, by Dr. Ellen Fithian (0 comments)


In my neck of the woods, it’s time for students to choose their courses for next year. The choices are pretty narrow for rising freshmen, but by junior and senior year, curricular choices increase and parents sometimes become perplexed by the different types of advanced courses. For example, if a mother tells me that her 9th grader is taking Advanced Placement geometry, I know she’s confused. There is no Advanced Placement geometry course, so what she probably means is advanced geometry. What’s the difference, anyway?

Let’s begin at the beginning. The first thing you need to understand is that advanced high school courses fall into two general categories; those that cover high school level content and those that cover college level content.

High School Level Courses

Advanced courses that are comprised of high school level content are often labeled honors or advanced. Their curricula cover much the same territory as is dealt with in a regular high school course, but the honors course treats the material in a more challenging way. For example, honors or advanced geometry will usually cover the topics contained in general geometry, but may ask students to solve more difficult problems in those topics or add extra topics.

College Level Courses

These courses cover academic content comparable to what’s offered in college. They provide an opportunity for students to begin college work – and earn college credit - while still in high school. The two most common examples are Advanced Placement and dual enrollment.

Advanced Placement (AP) Courses

The term Advanced Placement is not a general term for any college level course taught in high school. It refers specifically to a group of courses whose curricula have been formulated by a nonprofit organization, the College Board.

Each AP course is created by a College Board development committee comprised of college faculty and high school teachers. The committee creates a course description – an outline of topics and skills to be learned - along with a standardized final exam. Courses are intended to cover the material found in typical introductory college classes.

If a high school chooses to offer an AP course, the teacher uses the course description as a guide to developing her curriculum, but has considerable freedom to decide how the material is taught. The standardized AP exam is administered to students at their school but then sent to the College Board to be graded on a scale of 1 to 5. While the College Board considers that a student who earns a grade of 3 or higher is “qualified to receive college credit,” the determination of whether a student will actually receive credit – and how much – rests with the college he ultimately attends. And while most colleges award credit for at least some AP courses, they may require a qualifying exam score of 4 or even 5.

Dual Enrollment courses

As we’ve discussed, an AP course covers a college curriculum, but a student’s ability to earn college credit rests on his demonstrating mastery of the course content by getting a high score on the AP exam.

A dual enrollment course, by contrast, is an actual college course – i.e. one that’s been accredited by a college. In the simplest scenario, a high school student might attend a course at a local college. If his high school chooses to give him credit for the course as well, he will be dual enrolled at both the college and his high school for that course.

Another common dual enrollment scenario involves high school students taking a college – accredited course at their high school from a high school teacher. How does a high school course get to be college-accredited? By meeting certain requirements, which typically include a stipulation that the syllabus is equivalent to the course taught to regular undergraduates and that the teacher meets the credentialing requirements of the college. Students may be required to pass college placement tests as well.

The major advantage of dual enrollment in Virginia is that since such courses are considered bona fide college courses, they generally count as transfer credits if the student goes on to attend a Virginia institution. Colleges may require students to have earned at least a C in the dual enrollment course to earn credit, but this is a significantly lower bar to meet than having to score a 3, 4, or 5 on an AP exam. On the other hand, while dual enrollment courses generally transfer to Virginia universities, they may not be accepted as college credit by top private colleges. 

Other Advanced Options

In addition to Advanced Placement and dual enrollment courses, there are a variety of other programs that offer rigorous educational options. These include the International Baccalaureate program, Academic Year Governor’s Schools in Virginia, and a range of magnet programs in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and the sciences. Many such programs provide opportunities for students to undertake projects, research, career exploration, and other unique and enriching experiences, so check out what's available in your area.

Bottom line: encourage your teen to challenge herself academically and help her find the program that's best suited to her interests and abilities.

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Posted on 02/08/2019, by Dr. Ellen Fithian (0 comments) « Previous Entry    Next Entry »

 

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