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Castilleja School to drop science APs

Original post made on Jun 4, 2011

In what is described as a bid to deepen student learning, Castilleja School will replace its Advanced Placement science classes with a home-grown advanced science curriculum beginning in fall 2012.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, June 4, 2011, 10:24 AM

Comments (23)

Posted by Jon, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 4, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Castilleja is making a good move. Gunn, Paly, and the PAUSD board ought to watch how it goes.


Posted by gunn student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 4, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Hi. APs themselves are not what is causing stress. It is the difficulty of the class in specific. At gunn high school, something like 99% of students score about 3 on the AP Bio test, and 95% get 4 or more.

Yet, there is still a bell curve of a B average for the AP bio class?

Meanwhile students at other schools who get As in AP Bio struggle to get a 3 or 4?

That's why people are stressed. Not because the class is hard. But because the schools have lots of good students and in order to balance it out, teachers think they need to make curriculums extremely hard. Just because there's a lot of smart people doesn't mean you need to make it so some people have to get B's and C's where they would have gotten A's at other schools...


Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 4, 2011 at 1:20 pm

yes, the situation is more complex than some casual or out of date observers realize, and you have made a good solid point, gunn student.
Another point, among many, is that some have tried to twist genuine concern for our students into a farce that we want to "get rid of" all APs.
Intelligent utilization of the "AP system" is probably best...
too many are gaming the system currently with prepping ahead.
It IS true coming from a private will be different than coming from a public HS when submitting university apps. It's just not comparable. Anyway, congrats to Castilleja for caring about LEARNING - what a concept in this era of Tiger Moms!


Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 5, 2011 at 7:30 pm

We must be very careful here. Lets don't jump to conclusion here. Please see the following WSJ article:

Web Link

The issue is not that simple. Most of the high schools that are dropping APs are private high schools- have the resources to develop curriculum that are creative and academically challenging. Can we do that in our high schools and how?


Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 6, 2011 at 7:33 am

"The issue is not that simple. Most of the high schools that are dropping APs are private high schools- have the resources to develop curriculum that are creative and academically challenging. Can we do that in our high schools and how?

Great move by Castilleja. Hopefully our high schools will follow suit. Yes, we can certainly do it in our high schools, especially if we spend less money on athletics.


Posted by Some clarification, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 6, 2011 at 8:42 am

"especially if we spend less money on athletics."

Do you realize that the students who participate in athletics pay a participation fee and that is what funds the athletic department?


Posted by CastiCutie, a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 6, 2011 at 11:13 am

As a Casti student, I took AP's in Math, History & Biology.
While my college gave me course credit for the courses, it did NOT allow me to use them for prerequisites for college courses. This had the benefit of allowing me to take some other classes out of my Bio major that I might not have had time for and it made Freshman bio & math very easy. The dissadvantage was that I could have started my Bio studies higher up the curriculum and gotten farther by the end off 4 years (and my funds).

I remember these classes as being more difficulte, but never more stressful than the others.

If colleges will accept the Casti accellerated classes as both prerequisits and course credit, then I'm all for the change. It gives the students an advantage at a time when they are basically on there own for the first time and need all the help they can get.


Posted by For AP classes, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 6, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Amazing that there are parents in Palo Alto who are calling on PAUSD to water down the curriculum by getting rid of AP classes. NO ONE forces anybody to take AP classes! Those who cannot handle them should not take them!

Note that Castilleja is not just getting rid of APs, they are replacing them with other HIGH LANE classes.

Let's not be stupid out of sheer pride, Palo Alto parents. If your kids can't handle high lane classes (i.e. APs in our schools), there is no reason to punish those who can.


Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm

@daniel,

I believe we have very capable teachers! Unfortunately, PAUSD's latest effort in revamping our elementary school Math curriculum has NOT been well received. I doubt that developing a NEW, CHALLENGING Science Curriculum will be a feasible task. As parent and a real estate owner, I definitely DO NOT want our district to experiment on any new curriculum...


Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 6, 2011 at 2:59 pm

There are physical and emotional issues triggered by AP classes that provide plenty of reasons to drop them, but they are not even a good thing academically. After studying for hours to remember information before a test, students forget it afterward because drill-and-regurgitate doesn't teach the larger principles that organize data into memorable concepts useful for thinking at the next level.

No wonder half the freshmen at the highly selective University of California at Berkeley, according to an admissions official, require remedial instruction. They may be the cream of the high-school crop in terms of their GPAs, but they aren't prepared to do college work.


Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 6, 2011 at 8:35 pm

"There are physical and emotional issues triggered by AP classes that provide plenty of reasons to drop them, but they are not even a good thing academically"

I disagree with this statement. My older daughter graduated with 10 APs and is doing extremely well in college. My younger daughter is a sophomore and already has 3 APs. I believe APs are excellent in getting deeper into a subject. This can be very appealing to students and gets them hooked on a particular field. I think this is a very good thing. Our high schools offer alternative classes for students not interested in the AP track.

@daniel, can you share info re Berkeley admission official's comments? I'd be very interested in knowing the full context of his comments.


Posted by Gunn Mom, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 7, 2011 at 5:36 am

To Gunn Parent,

What APs are allowed to take as a sophomore (with proper prerequisites, of course)? Could you tell us? I guess they are a foreign language, math,and ??? I can not think of anything else.


Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 7, 2011 at 7:21 am

Here is a case against AP classes as currently taught, and in the process helps demonstrate why assigning less homework while otherwise keeping the system in its present form wouldn't make schools more effective.

The original purpose of AP classes was to let high-school kids take college-credit courses if they were ready for them, according to the dean of Stanford's college of education. "Unfortunately," she explains in the film "Race to Nowhere", "it's turned into a kind of a gatekeeper" for admission to top colleges and universities. So, "it's not about going deeper, really challenging yourself. It's about how many AP classes can I rack up so I have more AP classes than the people I'm competing with?"

To illustrate, she says her daughter told her after taking her AP French test, "Now I never have to speak French again!" The prof concludes by saying that the purpose of high school has changed. It's to prepare "for the college application, not even for college."

(Here's a link: Web Link to a YouTube excerpt from the film on the breakneck pace of AP courses, the fragmented skills they teach, and why college freshmen with dazzling high-school GPAs end up needing to take remedial college courses.)


Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 7, 2011 at 8:44 am

To add to daniel's comments just above, which I agree with, I had a kid who did not get to take AP of a foreign language in high school and so "had" to take foreign language in college as a freshman. Guess what! My kid found the teaching of that language surprisingly excellent in college, much superior to high school, and told me foreign language classes tend to be smaller and more personalized, (though other courses at that university can be large). Some students who "continue" with foreign language end up adding a second, more exotic one or minor in that.
We were underwhelmed with our experience in Palo Alto schools with foreign language - huge classes and slow progress. So, try to encourage your student to continue (if any interest at all) rather than look at foreign language requirements or AP as something to "get past," as noted in the above post by daniel, because it might turn out to be genuinely fulfilling beyond satisfying general ed/distribution requirements in a university...


Posted by ap, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 7, 2011 at 9:03 am

Do not start it when you are not clear if you or other party will get interested in it or not,otherwise you would have wasted energy or can not turn back next time.Tell your parents about it.


Posted by curious, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 7, 2011 at 11:40 am

Why not drop English, APUSH, Calculus, etc.? Do they think the science APs are over the top? Do they not emphasize science at their school? Do they have a stronger science staff?


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 7, 2011 at 11:57 am

The colleges which market themselves as "selective" i.e. Ivy league, Stanford, etc. have 25,000 applicants for about 1,700 spots... For those who have an issue with the use of AP's as a criteria:

1) what better system do you propose?

2) there is a correlation that between students who do well on AP and their success rate at college - so why not use AP's as a criteria?


Posted by look to the teachers, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 7, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Web Link
"We want to be clear that this is not a case of "whoever has the most APs wins." Instead, we look for thoughtful, eager and highly engaged students who will make a difference at Stanford and the world beyond, and we expect that they have taken high school course loads of reasonable and appropriate challenge in the context of their school.

As a result, we do not require students to submit AP scores as part of our admission process. AP scores that are reported are acknowledged but rarely play a significant role in the evaluation of an application. Grades earned over the course of a semester, or a year, and evaluations from instructors who can comment on classroom engagement allow us the most detailed insight into a student's readiness for the academic rigors of Stanford."


Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 7, 2011 at 2:11 pm

"there is a correlation that between students who do well on AP and their success rate at college - so why not use AP's as a criteria?"

Not true. According to an admission official in the link I provided, half of the freshmen in the highly selective UC Berkeley require remedial instruction. They may be the cream of the high-school crop in terms of their GPAs, but they aren't prepared to do college work. You can bet your house that pretty much all of them took AP classes.


Posted by Fun with statistics, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 7, 2011 at 3:07 pm

"Not true. According to an admission official in the link I provided, half of the freshmen in the highly selective UC Berkeley require remedial instruction. They may be the cream of the high-school crop in terms of their GPAs, but they aren't prepared to do college work. You can bet your house that pretty much all of them took AP classes."

Right, but that still doesn't prove (or disprove) whether kids taking APs are more successful in college. Even if you choose the metric of needing remedial instruction as the indicator of "success", you need to compare the percentage of kids who took APs that require remedial instruction with the percentage of kids who didn't.


Posted by bea, a resident of another community
on Jun 7, 2011 at 4:55 pm

The New York "Times" published an article in January about the way many AP courses are currently being re-vamped -- Web Link. The focus of the article is on the AP Biology course. One of the critiques colleges have had about the way that the test and course if currently structured is that "PowerPoint lectures are the rule. The homework wears down many students. And studies show that most schools do the same canned laboratory exercises, providing little sense of the thrill of scientific discovery."

It sounds like Castilleja is trying to structure advanced science courses that will provide for the thrill of scientific discovery. Good for them!


Posted by Jason Strober, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jun 7, 2011 at 10:30 pm

High school students should learn *how* to think, not just memorize information. I think this is a very smart move. It requires good teachers to teach kids how to explore topic like biology rather than just memorizing lots of data that is forgotton right after the test.


Posted by CastillejaStudent, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2011 at 10:54 am

To curious, Castilleja does offer a non-AP math class called Calculus Theory, which not only covers AP Calculus level material but also hugely emphasizes proofs (the textbook used for homework is Spivak). Calculus Theory I replaces Precalculus, Introduction to Calculus AB, or Introduction to Calculus BC, and Calculus Theory II replaces AP Calculus BC.


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