AP student success


Kira Williams, Writer

Bellows Free Academy Advanced Placement (AP) student scores not only outshine the Vermont state average, but the global average as well. Classes included in this academic excellence are Biology, Calculus BC, Chemistry, English, Environmental Science, Literature and Composition, Music Theory and many more.

“Advanced Placement (AP) is a program in the United States and Canada created by the College Board which offers college-level curricula and examinations to high school students. American colleges and universities may grant placement and course credit to students who obtain high scores on the examinations. The AP curriculum for each of the various subjects is created for the College Board by a panel of experts and college-level educators in that field of study. For a high school course to have the designation, the course must be audited by the College Board to ascertain that it satisfies the AP curriculum. If the course is approved, the school may use the AP designation and the course will be publicly listed on the AP Course Ledger,” according to Wikipedia.

Advanced Placement testing varies slightly from regular testing. In college prep classes students sometimes must present a project (Project Based Learning) with an essay written ahead of time, or take a test made by the teacher. The testing for AP is generally longer and students need to retain what they’ve learned for a longer period of time.

One subject that has proceeded to show high marks through the years is Mrs. Hebert’s English Language and Composition. According to the College Board’s summary AP Five-Year School Score Summary (2017), the 2017 BFA mean English score was 3.30 on a five point scale, the Vermont average was 3.14 and the global score 2.77.

For some perspective, there are a total of 149 high schools in Vermont, 83 of which are public and the remaining 66 are private according to high-schools.com.  https://high-schools.com/directory/vt/  

Comparing that with the data from AP Five-Year School Score Summary (2017), in 2017 a total of 4,002 exams were taken by Vermont students, 136 of those were taken by BFA students.

Many of the classes listed above have been achieving high results for several years in a row as opposed to a one year success. For example in 2013, the mean English Language and Composition score was 3.48 and again, the global average was 2.77.

Over the five year period in the report, English Language and Composition has had some of the largest numbers of BFA students, and also some of the best results of any of the approximately 17 subject AP tests taken by BFA students.

So why is it that BFA students tend to score higher than their Vermont peers in some of the subject areas? BFA English (and AP English Language and Composition) teacher Mrs. Larissa Hebert shares her thoughts on what allows her students to excel.

“I have had the opportunity to be trained in instructing an AP course through professional development and I’ve also attended workshops around calibration, which is the scoring of AP essays to make sure that I am scoring them [the students] accurately,” Hebert said.

Different teaching strategies can impact student learning and academic success. Being a student can be easy, especially once you’ve found a learning strategy that works for you. The best fitting strategies vary for individuals and one teacher’s method might not be the best fit for some students.

Some teachers such as Mrs. Hebert have shown continuing levels of using successful strategies and tend to outshine the majority of the state.

“Everything that I teach in regards to writing, for example their narratives, I want them [the students] to think about purpose, audience, subject; it lends itself to the test. I give them a lot of opportunities for in-class practice with on demand prompts from previous exams that they can receive feedback on,” Hebert said.

Since individual students learn in several different ways, that means there’s many more studying techniques.  Some AP students at BFA were asked how they study best, including Sara Young (‘18), who has taken AP Language and Composition, AP Literature and Composition and currently is in AP Government and Politics.

“I learn best from a textbook then having the teacher explain the reading, I do like class discussions but it has to be on something that I really enjoy,” Young said.

Another student, Ethan Shannon (‘19), is currently taking AP classes for the first time. He is currently in AP U.S. History, AP Language and Composition, AP Calculus and AP Chemistry.

For me, it varies according to subject. For example, with social studies, I benefit from group discussion. With math, I learn just by doing work repetitively and asking questions when I need help. For science, it’s a mix of both previously mentioned,” Shannon said.

Last year Young was a student in US History and was required to participate in PBL as an exam.

“It was the worst experience, I would have rather taken a test. Honestly, just the amount of people [students] that I hear that did their project the week it was due instead of doing it throughout the whole process. In theory it sounds good but in practice it would take really extraordinary people to make PBL’s work,” Young said.

Young is not the only student who feels this way. Many students, although admitting to not liking standardized tests, still say they’d prefer taking a written exam as opposed to presenting a project to the class.

“I’m on the fence about PBL. From an AP student perspective, it is essential to be able to self direct your learning even in instances where you may not necessarily like the topic, which will most likely happen during everyone’s college career. To have the researching skills and be able to come up with a solution is not only a college skill, but a real-life skill, especially if one goes into a career field that involves problem-solving,” Shannon said.

Students in AP classes aren’t normally required to present a PBL project on exam day, they take written tests instead. There are several pros and cons to each of these methods, but can Project Based Learning fit well with AP classes?

“It can be incorporated into any class.  It doesn’t have to not work because the class is AP. For example with The Great Gatsby we have a 1920’s party where we research film, fashion or food and those are projects,” Hebert said.

Perhaps an AP student might earn an 85 in an English class and a student in a college prep class might score a 95, the difference is the AP student has to learn faster and retain knowledge longer. It is well known that students who achieve a 3 or higher on the College Board AP administered test get college credit.  AP classes are widely recognized to have higher rigor than the “college prep” classes.

If Project Based Learning were to be encouraged within AP classes, which some teachers do attempt to incorporate, the high marks that BFA students tend to earn likely won’t change,  despite how students feel on Project Based Learning.

All in all, BFA students tend to score higher than the state average on many different assessments, and AP tests are no exception. So far not all students are fond of Project Based Learning and tend to prefer taking a test or writing an essay in class.

No matter what new learning strategy or approach is mandated by Vermont or the federal government, it would seem that BFA students can adapt, and excel, especially with a well experienced teacher guiding their learning.