Lakeside’s Communication on APs Yet to Earn a Five

Recently, I visited my cousins in Colorado, and between über-competitive rounds of board games and trying to determine if the escapades my cousin was reporting were fake (he’s a thirteen-year old in Texas, it’s more difficult than it sounds), I found myself subject to an oh-so awkward question from my aunt that, as a Lakeside student, I’ve grown distinctly accustomed to: And you, Jackson. Are you taking any AP classes this year? For the next five minutes, I stumbled through trying to explain the honors/accelerated system with the grace of a toddler ice skating for the first time as my relatives grew more and more confused. Each answer spawned a litany of further questions: How do you expect to take the tests? Why don’t you have them? What’s the difference? What does that mean for college? etc. etc. Eventually, my aunt gave up, letting her eyebrows slowly unknit themselves as she changed the subject.

I felt utterly dissatisfied with my inability to answer her questions, but moreso my inability to answer my own ones, to participate in my family’s raucous reports on the horrors of the college board, and to indulge in what I viewed as a quintessential and important aspect of the high school experience and the college application process. 

In discussion with my classmates, I found that I was not alone. Many of my peers, especially the underclassmen, remain in the dark about Lakeside’s lack of APs. Students are largely unable to cite a reason for the lack of AP courses, outside of Lakeside simply being “special like that.” All of it — the uncertainty, the vexation, the curiosity — seem to beg the very same question: Why? 

Academic Dean Hans de Grys provides some clarity. The purpose of APs, he says, “is to provide comprehensive, robust introductions to a subject for motivated students, and to act as signifiers to colleges that a certain individual is capable of performing well in classes similar to the college level. If you look at our list of classes, especially upper level ones, I believe we are able to do just that and more.” 

If Lakeside students are unable to turn to their own school as a support system for the APs, then we lose one of the largest educational resources we have.

Nevertheless, reasoning for a lack of APs isn’t limited to the caliber of Lakeside nor that of its classes. Instead, there exists a values-based incentive to have a unique system for Lakeside as well: noting the memorization-based philosophy of the APs, Mr. de Grys states, “At Lakeside, we don’t want this to be our focus. Instead, we strive for unstructured problem solving, for teaching kids how to approach problems instead of doing them, and how to promote our competencies and mindsets.”
As an example, Mr. de Grys names Molecular and Cellular Biology as a class that perfectly embodies this intention: “Dr. Parry is an expert in that field, and while we could certainly follow the AP curriculum for a class like that, I think students gain much more from having a class that’s more in-depth and exploratory in structure.” 

Despite the offerings of more comprehensive approaches to various subjects, taking AP tests remains popular at Lakeside. The majority of the Lakeside students I interviewed believed that APs remained, as one put it, “an effective means of conveying [their] knowledge and proficiency.” Others cited a desire to receive college credit for certain subjects so that they wouldn’t have to take those classes later, a benefit Mr. de Grys also acknowledged.

In addition, many students are of the belief that AP scores were an essential part of college admissions and thus necessary for applications. To shed some light on how exactly AP scores affect college applications, Tatler spoke with Director of College Counseling Ari Worthman. 

Mr. Worthman establishes that the perception of AP scores as a crucial part of a college application is largely unfounded: “APs are one of the least important parts of the application, even if a student chooses to submit them.” AP scores are used to contextualize the applications of students coming from high schools with which admission boards are unfamiliar; but because most colleges know about Lakeside’s curriculum, AP scores simply don’t matter as much. As Mr. Worthman puts it, “There’s not a need to have those AP scores because it’s telling them what they already know.” 

Instead of worrying about AP exams, Mr. Worthman says that students would benefit more from focusing on activities or subjects they’re passionate about, resulting in stronger applications. “Studying for an AP exam isn’t an interesting thing to write about in a college application. A service trip, or your family which you’re really close with — that is really interesting, so reallocating that time elsewhere will actually serve [students] more than reinforcing some other pieces that are already in the application.”

However, Mr. Worthman concedes that AP scores could be important for those applying to international universities. For example, schools in the Netherlands (per se) are highly AP-focused. 

Regarding those students who are considering applying to a college that requires APs, Mr. Worthman recommends “looking at the courses they’re in and the courses they’re planning to take and choosing which APs they’re qualified to take.” For instance, if a student passionate about physics knew they wanted to take an AP exam, it would be most effective to study for that through the Lakeside Calc-Based Physics course. 

  Addressing the confusion around AP exams and their importance (or lack thereof) in college applications, Mr. Worthman states that students can always reach out to the college counseling office to clarify. Furthermore, he stressed the importance of listening to credible sources: “If someone’s telling you that you need to take five APs, question whether they have the background for that. Make sure that the person who’s giving you that information is qualified to do so.”

Nevertheless, reasoning for a lack of APs isn’t limited to the caliber of Lakeside nor its classes.

Nevertheless, if they remain popular among students, what has the school done to address and/or assist students with APs? As Mr. de Grys explained, “There are some classes at Lakeside that have significant overlap with the APs, and teachers are all expected to distribute syllabuses at the beginning of the year, but outside of that, the onus is really on the student to study and prepare themselves for the AP.” He added that in class, teachers generally focus on their own syllabi, rather than the material on the APs.

Herein lies the point where I find myself disagreeing with the school’s approach, at least to some extent. If it’s a known fact that a considerable number of Lakeside students are investing their time in APs and that they value them as a means of conveying knowledge or expertise in an area, then why should the responsibility of preparation be wholly upon them? Yes, students should naturally be accountable for some portion of their studying, but shouldn’t teachers be equally responsible for being armed with enough knowledge on the AP curriculum to address student questions and explicitly detail what is and is not being taught? 

Definitely. If Lakeside students are unable to turn to their own school as a support system for the APs, then we lose one of the largest educational resources we have. I believe that stress concerning the exams and equity issues are results of Lakeside’s lack of AP support, as those who possess the means to access outside resources exercise them while those who don’t are left to essentially fend for themselves. 

If Lakeside intends to maintain its current policy on APs, I believe it must address the chronic communication failure that sparked this article in the first place. As an underclassman, I was not aware that the APs aren’t a necessity for college applications but instead a supplemental aspect whose relative importance is minimal at Lakeside before I sat down with Mr. de Grys and Mr. Worthman. Yet many underclassmen have yet to experience such conversations or arrive at such realizations — an extraordinary issue, especially as I watched friends study tirelessly last year to take the AP exams.

If we hope to not only support such individuals through the popular AP process but also produce a community that is able to, regardless of grade, make informed decisions in regards to AP exams, then we need discussions that detail to students early in their high school careers the Lakeside philosophy on APs and the need for them. If not, we run the risk of engendering further confusion, inequity, and stress for students regarding what many (falsely) view as a looming cloud of AP exams.