By Liz DeGennaro
For several years, Jamesville-DeWitt High School has taken a unique approach to the course offerings of the Advanced Placement sciences. “Traditionally, we’ve taught them as first-year courses and we’ve been very successful at it,” says current AP Biology teacher Keith Comfort. However, the College Board has recently redesigned the curriculum of AP Biology and AP Chemistry, making them significantly more difficult. “They require a tremendous amount of background information, and students are expected to incorporate the different concepts in their work. I would say they are about 150 to 200 percent harder than before,” says Mr. Comfort. The difficulty is in part because “students now have to have a broader knowledge base, and apply all that they know in an inquiry-based laboratory experiment, which they have not had to do before,” says AP Chemistry teacher Theresa Groman.
The College Board’s changes were first applied to the AP Biology course for the 2012-2013 school year, during which the class was still offered as a one-year course. Any of the current AP Biology students are able to tell you how difficult this course is. “On a difficulty scale of one to ten, (AP Bio) is about a 13,” jokes sophomore and AP Biology student Ryan Fanning. “What makes AP Bio difficult is that the majority of the students in our class have never taken biology before. It’s a second year course, but we never learned the first year,” says sophomore Urmi Roy. Because of this, AP Biology students are expected to learn material independently, while completing rigorous schoolwork. “We have to learn units by ourselves, while we’re completing labs, studying for tests, learning other units, and finishing our notes,” says sophomore Saqif Badruddin. “It gets really hectic, and it’s a lot to take care of,” he adds. The same changes implemented in AP Bio for this school year will be applied to the AP Chemistry course for the 2013-2014 school year.
However, J-DHS students will no longer have the option to take AP Biology or Chemistry as a first year course. “We’re making them two years, so that students will take honors first and then AP their senior year. We just don’t have enough time to fit everything into a one-year class anymore,” says Mrs. Groman. “It’s not really possible to teach them as a first-year class. To teach them well, we have to be realistic,” says Mr. Comfort. In response, honors-level science courses will likely slightly increase in difficulty, in order to prepare students for the AP level. “Having a background like the honors class is what the AP class needs. It’s a great foundation for the AP level,” says Mr. Comfort. AP Physics, however, will continue to be a one-year course.
How do the current AP students feel about this decision? “I don’t think it’s fair at all. We’re really smart, and we should have the opportunity to be challenged,” says Roy. Other students agree that although the new course was difficult, it was still beneficial. “AP Biology is definitely a lot of work, but it really prepares you for what you have to do in college. I understand why they made the decision, but I still think we should at least have the option,” says Fanning. Other AP students feel that taking first-year AP sciences look impressive for colleges. “If you put an AP on your resume, it looks good. But it will be hard to do that now,” says sophomore Micah Lee.
However, guidance counselor Diane Ennis says that the changes in course offerings will not affect college acceptances. “Colleges are notified of the school profile with course opportunity. Colleges will know that first-year sciences were not an option, and can’t judge you on unavailability,” says Mrs. Ennis. Instead, Mrs. Ennis feels that taking honors-level sciences first will give students the confidence to take an AP science, which they otherwise might not have taken.
Although AP Biology and Chemistry have become second-year courses, students will still have the opportunity to challenge themselves. The new arrangement will allow these challenging classes to be taught well, but in a different time frame. “It’s all about hard work,” confirms Badruddin.