kitchen table math, the sequel: Qualfying for high school honors classes

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Qualfying for high school honors classes

Many Most* high schools establish criteria for admission to honors and/or AP classes.  Here's a window into how one school does it.

Qualifying for high school honors classes - Education Quick Takes

*  UPDATE:  I've corrected this because I don't have data to back up my statement that "most" schools have admission criteria, and gassstationwithoutpumps pointed out in the comments section that in his experience many do not.


gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Is it really true that *most* high schools have admissions criteria for honors and AP classes?

I'm on an AP teachers mailing list, and many (most?) of the teachers are at schools where students are allowed to self-select whether they want to do AP or honors work. Even at schools where there are placement tests, teachers reported the existence of "parental override", where a parent could request a different placement for their child.

Most of the teachers support allowing high schoolers to challenge themselves, though a few worry about diluting the courses if too many in the class are unprepared. For the most part though, the teachers see willingness to work as the main criterion for success in the AP classes, so self-selection works pretty well for producing a group ready to do AP classes.

Disclaimer: anecdotal evidence on one mailing list is far from a statistically meaningful sample, even of those on the list. I have no data about the actual prevalence of strict admissions policies.

Grace Nunez said...

You make a good point, and I've updated my post to reflect it.

cranberry said...

See Catherine's posts on the star system in high schools. Some high schools definitely do create a system of prerequisites for honors/AP. Our local high school does. Now, I got fed up and my child is now in a private school, which encourages students to try challenging courses.

I do not know how easy it is to circumvent the official placement system. As I looked at the criteria, much of it would wipe out a smart, bored middle school boy who wasn't into group work.

Our state now publishes AP statistics by school. How many exams were taken, what the scores were, how many students were permitted to take the test. It is fascinating to see how widely the statistics vary by school. Think of three towns, state test results very, very strong in each, good SES characteristics in each. By town, 50%, 30%, or 13% of students took at least one AP exam. The towns are within the same geographical area in our state. The passage rates are not significantly different.

Our town, with the 13% AP test taking rate, thinks it is "sparing students stress." I think that's a strange argument, as it makes college applications much more stressful.

Hainish said...

I wonder, was the parental override option publicized?

Anonymous said...

In the high school my older kids (now mid-30s) attended, junior high school(7-8)grades in each subject were the primary qualification for freshman honors courses and the middle school had honors sections of almost all academic classes except foreign languages. There was no specific test and a parent override was not publicized but I think it was possible. Beyond freshman year, grades were still the primary qualification except for AP classes, which required successful completion of the honors prerequisite (honors world for AP Euro, honors chem for AP chem etc) and that is still the case, according to the school website. There used to be two or three honors sections of the sciences and one AP (double period every day) class and the 36 kids (18 lab stations) with the best honors grades who applied were chosen.

However, by the time my younger kids arrived, the JHS had become a middle school (6-7-8), over parent opposition, and had changed from a very academic environment to a touchy-feely, artsy-crafty one, although still with honors classes. The change in focus, however, was not boy-friendly and lots of girls were equally unhappy. Since we left the area, I don't know how that affected freshman placement.

The HS community, as well as those surrounding it, was an affluent one where most parents were college grads and a very large number had graduate/professional degrees. The elementary schools had relatively homogeneous classes and it was well-known that getting into honors classes in MS was very important.

My older kids commented that when they arrived in 7th grade, lots of girls who had never had less than As were getting Bs and more boys were getting As, since pretty coloring and decorating wasn't very important. That change didn't happen in the MS format; making it pretty was still a big thing for most teachers, although there was some improvement in 7th-8th, since many of the JHS teachers were still there.

Anonymous said...

PS - I never heard of a situation where the honors prereq for AP was waived and I'm not sure whether a parent override existed for kids who had iffy grades in the prerequisite.

Lisa said...

My kids' high school lets anyone who wants to sign up for AP. I don't imagine there are many failing students dying to get into AP chem. If anything I think they push Honors/AP. When signing up my now 9th grader they suggested 4 Honors classes. He's not that bright so I think here it's about the Honors Diploma offered by the state. If you don't get started on the right track there's no going back. For the record, he took 2 honor's classes.

Redkudu said...

In my district all 8th graders who made recommended on the state test were automatically put into Pre-AP. The state test at 8th grade is a just reading. I'm finding I have to start with nouns and verbs.

At my old school students had to have an 85 or higher average in English, had to take a preview test with a writing component and make an 85 or higher, and had to have a teacher recommendation. Still, parents could opt to have their kids in Pre and AP, but after seeing the results on the preview test many who weren't suited (or not that interested) chose to take on-level courses.

I felt my previous school did a lot to make sure students and parents knew Pre and AP weren't simply artsy classes for enthusiastic readers - they had to be prepared for the rigor.

My current school doesn't seem to have that emphasis, but there's a growing awareness for the need to make students and parents aware of the rigor involved - especially since I'm the only 9th Pre-AP teacher and I've been pushing for it. Next year we should have a preview test, we're working on educating the middle school teachers a little more on what kids should expect, and we're pushing to encourage kids who are proficient in reading AND writing to take Pre-AP: kids who would do perfectly well but perhaps haven't been thought of as AP kids or who haven't considered it for themselves.

SteveH said...

Our high school now only has three levels: honors, college prep, and general (>1 year behind). Our middle school counselors place the kids (by subject) into different levels (about 15% are selected for all honors classes), but there is an override process. The counselors tend to scare kids away from the override and I think some high school honors teachers try to make a point by sticking it to the kids in the freshman year. Some parents are scared away from a full load of honors classes because many (like me) had only college prep classes as the top level in high school.

There are grade prerequisites for moving on in honors math or science, but I think those can be overriden. However, after freshman year, most have a better idea of how difficult the honors classes are. I would like to see how the honors class numbers change each year.

Science and AP classes are difficult because there is not enough time. Earth science is mandatory in our school for 9th grade, so that leaves only 3 more math classes unless you double up in a year using your free elective. I haven't figured out how anyone can fit in an honors pre-AP science class before taking the AP version. It looks like my son will take honors biology as a sophomore, AP chemistry as a junior, and AP physics as a senior. How does this work at other high schools? When I was in high school, we didn't have AP classes and two course sequences in science. I can't imagine jumping directly into the AP class, but I can't imagine taking an honors class and then the AP class. Either the AP class is partly a review or the honors class is too simple.

Grace Nunez said...

Wow, cranberry, that's quite a disparity of AP participants among those schools. It illustrates how schools can influence their students' academic paths.

Grace Nunez said...

I wonder, was the parental override option publicized?

This is a very good question. My observation is that pushy parents or those "in the know" can easily override their child's placement. This exemplifies a problem also shown by the class assignments where students are given a choice either to make a comic strip or write an essay. Unless a parent is watching their child's academic activities like a hawk, there is a danger that a student who otherwise should be on the honors track will fall off. Sadly, I've seen this happen and parents either wonder what went wrong or simply accept their child's lower achievement levels as the way it was meant to be.

Grace Nunez said...

Steve, at our local school the science sequence varies.

In chemistry, I think students typically take honors and then AP. But in physics, there is no honors option. So a student will take Regents physics and then AP.

I don't really understand the reasoning, but it may be because of the AP chem rigor - I think it's a death march type of course. Maybe there are other reasons, perhaps having to do with staffing.

momof4 said...

I was the Anonymous commentator. My kids took a typical AP track sequence starting with honors lab science as freshmen (prerequisite for all other sciences), honors chem and honors bio as sophomores, AP chem and honors physics as juniors and AP physics (calc BC corequisite) as seniors. The life science kids took AP bio instead of AP physics and all were on the honors/AP math track. They were also highly likely to take at least one AP history (mine took 2) and foreign language and English. At that school, the AP classes were real college courses and reports from kids who went on to second-level courses in college corroborated this. That science sequence did limit electives, since all APs are double-period every day.

SteveH said...

Thanks for the feedback.

"...honors chem and honors bio as sophomores, AP chem and honors physics as juniors and AP physics (calc BC corequisite) as seniors."

I guess you have to double up, even if one of the AP classes does not require a pre-honors class. I will have to check the handbook, but I think AP Physics only requires a math prerequisite, like Pre-calc or a concurrent Calc class.

At our high school, the class slots are limited. Freshman take English, Earth Science, World History, Math, foriegn language, elective, and another slot that is split between PE for one semester and a free elective for the other. In the freshman year, that other half-elective must be a "tech-readiness" course. In other years, you still have to take a semester of PE, which leaves the other half-semester which can't be used for science. Since his free elective will always be orchestra, it will push the doubling up until at least the junior year when he could drop the language class. I don't like that solution either.

It seems that if you want a full introduction to science in high school, you have to give up your electives.

".. AP chem rigor - I think it's a death march type of course."

I'll have to pick up an AP Chem book to see. What comments do others have about the relative difficulty of AP Chem and AP Physics? What part of chemistry do kids find difficult?

momof4 said...

My kids didn't find AP chem especially difficult BUT it followed honors chem (same teacher)so they were well-prepared; same for the other sciences. A friend of my second son decided that he wanted to go to med school so found himself taking AP chem, AP bio (both double periods), AP calc, honors English and an AP history as a senior; the only kid I knew who took two AP sciences at once - because he realized too late that he should have taken both honors bio and honors chem as a sophomore and avoided the senior schedule-of-death. He did well though and went to his top choice school - Duke.

cranberry said...

Grace, I really respect our state's DOE for putting all the information online. It's easy to use, and understand. 50% is the highest rate of participation, I think. Some school districts don't have enough participants to release scores.

My oldest child's private high school is one of the "physics first" schools. The students take physics, then chemistry. In junior year, they take either bio, or AP physics, or AP chemistry. I find it very interesting that placing physics first seems to boost student interest in chemistry and physics.

SteveH said...

"senior schedule-of-death"

Is this something that kids and parents have to figure out themselves, or do high school counselors warn you? In looking at the online resumes of our guidance couselors, none of them have a background in math and science. They all specialized in kids at the lower end of the spectrum. These are the ones who warn kids away from taking too many honors classes.

What do you mean by double periods? Does this take up two course slots? Is this just for the AP chem and bio classes? Is this because of a lab? If so, then AP chem and bio would take two class slots each, and AP calc, honors English, and AP history would take 1 class slot each for a total of 7. No PE is required?

How do colleges deal with a senior year of AP classes? Do they check the first semester grades and then expect to see good AP test scores at the end of the year?

Anonymous said...

Steve; My advice, based on four highly-rated suburban high schools in three states, is to assume that guidance counselors are useless at best and often a hindrance. I've never encountered one (including at schools my kids' friends attended) that had much interest or expertise in academics at the HS or college-application levels; they were much more interested in the emotional side of counseling. Parents have to figure things out on their own, hopefully before their kids are hurt too badly - lack of parent knowledge and appropriate guidance sets up the schedule-of-death scenario. Despite years of parent complaints, guidance refused to tell kids/parents that those who might want two AP sciences needed to double up on honors sciences as sophomores.

At the high school I mentioned, all AP sciences meet for two consecutive periods every day and I recall that labs might take both periods some days, so days could be any combination of class and lab. At the time my kids attended, three semesters of PE were required and a school or club sport could count for the third semester, but kids on the honors track either took two semesters as freshmen or fouled up their schedules later. Also, kids who did band/orchestra had to plan very carefully because most of them were on the honors/AP track. Yes,you have counted the periods correctly for the schedule-of-death. BTW, the student in question also played varsity soccer in the fall and serious travel soccer the rest of the year, both with my son, who also did varsity wrestling; there were and are lots of very competitive kids at that school.

SteveH said...

I will have to find another parent who can give me the specific details for our high school. Packing the PE classes early is a great idea, but the impression I get at our school is that kids have to have one semester per year. There is also some sort of state-mandated one semester course on democracy along with the tech-readiness course. It seems that one of the class slots will always be used up each year. This means that it will be impossible for any of the band/orchestra/chorus kids to double up anything in the sophomore year. This would be true for the junior year unless they drop their foreign language class. I think that 3 years of history is required, plus the democracy course. They should allow 8th graders to take the state-mandated Earth Science course. That would make scheduling easier for high school.

SteveH said...

What about issues of whether certain courses are offered every year or conflicts in schedule? It seems that you can have everything mapped out, but then it can all fall apart.

ChemProf said...

I am reminded why, back a million years ago when I was in high school, honor choir and orchestra were "A period", or before class started for everyone else. That was how they dealt with the inevitable schedule conflicts.

At my local high school, AP doesn't require any associated pre-req. So for AP Chem, the pre-requisite is Honors or AP Bio, not another chem course. Of course, that means it really isn't a college-level chemistry course, despite the AP designation. My experience at the other end is that these things vary so much from high school to high school that you have to figure out the system at your school.

Genevieve said...

I attended a high school that was for about the top 5% of students in the area. It was designed to start in 8th grade and was supposed to be half a day, though by by 12th grade many students attended all day.
In eighth grade the science track took earth science and the social science track took the high school requirement of american government.
In 9th grade the science track took a semester of Chem and a semester of Physics. The social science track took world history.
After this the sequence was AP Bio, AP Chem, AP Physics(the algebra version/ or AP Environment Science for the science track. The sequence for social studies was AP Euro, AP American History, AP Comparative Gov & AP Macro Econ. Many seniors also took the AP American Gov and AP Micro Econ tests.
Science was single period, but labs were after-school. English and Math were also available with most students taking AP English Lang and AP Lit, many students taking AP Calc AB and the top Math students taking Calc BC. It was somewhat possible to change tracks or start after 8th grade (especially if a student moved into the district).

Genevieve said...

I took AP Chem and the first semester of AP Physics without taking either of the sciences previously (I switched school districts mid-high school).
I think it is very possible if a student has a strong math background and is willing to work hard.

I wasn't as willing to work hard and only received a 3 on the AP test(compared to a 5 on AP Bio). I would say this was a combo of having a teacher the last year before retirement and not studying hard during the year and before the AP test. Nothing like having a classroom where no one really cares or feels like working.

momof4 said...

Steve and whoever else is interested: I would recommend talking with parents of seniors or recent grads who have taken the courses you envision your son taking - perhaps some of the AP teachers could ask if suitable parents would OK their names being shared with you - and getting their input about scheduling issues. If your son is in the orchestra etc. maybe some of the seniors/their parents would give input. Most of my best sources of info were the soccer and swim parents because their kids were mostly on the honors/AP track that my kids wanted and many had older kids as well. They were the ones that warned me that I would have to push to have the counselor sign off on all-honors freshman classes and that the kids would need to double up on sophomore sciences to make time for two APs.

VickyS said...

AP bio and AP chem need more class time than a regular class. Some schools use double period, and I can't imagine going into them without a prior course or good background in biology or chemistry, respectively. We schedule these courses first period in the morning, or last period of the day, so they can spill over when needed (many of the labs take a couple of hours).

Some school districts allow students to take courses in the summer to ease the scheduling problems during the school year. We have a whole program of summer high school credits (PE, government, etc.) that can really ease things up in the fall.

Beware of dropping languages. Although most colleges we looked at required only 2 years, many still require 3 years in the same language.

And don't forget to take those SAT subject tests during the May or June of the year that you actually took the subject, rather than in the fall of the senior year!

Grace Nunez said...

online resumes of our guidance counselors

It's nice that your school posts resumes. I would imagine that's rare.

Grace Nunez said...

How do colleges deal with a senior year of AP classes? Do they check the first semester grades and then expect to see good AP test scores at the end of the year?

AP scores don't come out until the summer, so admission decisions are unaffected. Final senior grades are usually required by colleges, but I think it would take an F or a really low grade for a school to rescind its acceptance. First semester grades are key.

Grace Nunez said...

Regarding AP chem rigor, the teacher I knew told me that math fluency was one of the biggest hurdles some of her students faced.

One student I know earned his highest grades during his senior year when he was taking 5 AP courses. It was the first time he had ever made honors, and it was high honors. He explained that the AP classes were free of "trivial" assignments that made up a good chunk of other high school classes. Although there were those pesky AP science lab reports that had to be turned in . . .

SteveH said...

Thanks for the feedback.

"And don't forget to take those SAT subject tests during the May or June of the year that you actually took the subject, rather than in the fall of the senior year!"

Are these tests necessary in subjects where you take AP classes?

"AP scores don't come out until the summer..."

I suppose it doesn't matter. You need to take challenging courses, and you should always try your best. It seems, however, that some might try to fit in as many junior year AP classes as possible.

My son is mostly interested in physics and chemistry, so not getting to AP Biology might relax his schedule a little bit. My goal is to find a nice line between giving him a rigorous schedule and getting weird about it. Is there a problem not taking all three big science AP classes? I would rather have him take AP Music Theory than AP Biology. I also want him to take 4 years of orchestra and 4 years of a foreign language. Does it really impress colleges to see someone with a loaded science/math schedule and little else?

Also, what do people think of the AP Stat course?

kcab said...

SteveH - I recently heard that the biology teacher (9th grade subject) here advised several of the top students to take Chem as sophmores and somehow teach themselves Physics over the summer so that they could go directly to AP Physics. Or maybe it was Chem (10th), AP Chem(11th), AP Physics(12). I know that one option for that summer coursework would be through CTY. We might just cover the material on our own at home, as there is certainly enough expertise in that area in our household. That still doesn't allow for AP Bio, so I guess one either chooses differently or doubles up. There are a bunch of other really interesting looking science courses too.

Earth Sciences here is only given at a lower level, I think, as an option for those kids who aren't going to be going through the whole Bio/Chem/Physics sequence.

We have grade requirements in the pre-req classes, plus teacher recommendation for the level when coming in from the middle school. Classes offered at 3, 5, 7, 9, and AP level (though not everything is offered at every level). Typically the grade requirement will be either a B in the pre-req class at the same level, or an A in the pre-req class if taken at a lower level.

Anonymous said...


My son took AP Stats as a freshman. He just did his homework, but he really liked the class. He made a 5 on the test without any extra studying. He did have an excellent teacher, but they also work out of an AP workbook.

I was very nervous about it since a local private school had said that they didn't allow their freshmen or sophomores to take it. I couldn't figure out why since the pre-req is Alg 2. My school said he'd be fine and he was.

He's taking 3 AP as a sophomore. So far, we love AP a lot more than other classes for what others have said. It's straight to the point without the projects and class participation.


Grace Nunez said...

Are these tests necessary in subjects where you take AP classes?

Most highly selective colleges require at least two SAT subject tests, although usually not if you submit ACT instead of SAT scores. It's nice to be able to submit two subject tests with high scores.

The most subject tests

momof4 said...

I don't remember anyone who took all three AP sciences; some took one and the math/sci kids took two (bio and chem for those thinking life sciences or premed) and this was/is a school known for its math/science and it routinely sends kids to the Ivies and the like. At the time, kids not going on to AP science should take the SAT II after the honors class (even if as a sophomore), but juniors should take the SAT/AP after the appropriate class and also the SAT math so there will be scores for colleges - as well as any others in their area of interest (foreign language etc). I know a kid who did not take any SAT IIs at the end of his junior year and had to take them at the start of his senior year, after a summer off. His guidance counselor had told him and his parents that he wouldn't need them because he was going to take AP calc and AP physics as a senior, BUT those scores aren't available at application time!another reason why I'm not impressed with "guidance."

As far as other AP sciences are concerned (astronomy, physiology), some colleges do not accept them as sciences; I have heard admissions people explicitly state this. Some colleges re-calculate GPAs, using only selected classes. I remember one stating that they count only bio, chem and physics, so it would be worth checking into that issue. I may not be current, since all my kids are out of college.

All the kids I knew were on the most rigorous schedule took at least 4 years of foreign language, but they entered HS at third-year level, so they could finish an AP as a junior, which made the schedule easier. Many also took two AP histories or one history plus econ or government (US and comparative).

Do keep in mind that you can take the AP test without taking the course. My daughter did that with the AP English language; went in cold and passed well. Prep for that could be done in the summer - there's no specific lit. You can also get study guides - she did that in geography

SteveH said...

"He's taking 3 AP as a sophomore"

Wow. I don't think that's possible at our school. Most college-bound kids have almost the same rigid schedule. It's interesting to hear that some kids thrive on AP classes. I think my son would too. I just don't see any opening until his junior year.

In English, AP is only possible as a senior. My son will take AP Calc as a junior because he is a year ahead. That rarely ever happens. Science requires Earth science as a freshman, which is normally followed by biology (never AP) as a sophomore. Languages start at level II at most, so that means that AP as a junior is the best you can do, but that requires permission to skip level IV. History allows an AP as a junior, but never before that. Orchestra consumes a possible opening for early AP and the final slot is taken by PE and other required courses.

In terms of SAT II, if you take an AP test early enough, do colleges care to see the SAT II scores also? Which SAT II tests do people recommend, just a select few, or as many as possible? Can you submit just some, or will colleges see them all?

" can take the AP test without taking the course...."

Is there a point of diminishing returns? If he is scheduled to take AP Physics as a senior (with no prior physics course), should he prepare to take that SAT II test in the fall? I would like to figure this out early so that my son won't be hit with a steady stream of "you really should do this" later on. Or worse, "you should have done that, but it's too late".

Anonymous said...

Well, he'll be taking 3 AP tests, but AP Econ is one semester macro, one micro. So, he only attends two actual AP classes this year. Still, he's doing extremely well in one and okay (B grades) in the other.

We were lucky because when they sent him over to the high school for math in the 8th grade, he stayed for honors bio due to his reading scores on the ACT. He did great in that. Last year, though, he struggled with honors chem, mostly the lab writing. I thought we had made a mistake, but this year he's doing great in honors physics, so go figure.

He's all over the map grade-wise, but he seems to do a lot better in these no nonsense science and math courses.


Allison said...

Woah.. there is NO reason to take the SAT subject test in physics if he's not taking physics til sr year.

The SAT subject tests should be taken in subjects you know cold, and in spring or summer after you completed them.

The top schools want to see the SAT or ACT, the SAT math test, and one science SAT subject test, two if you're highly confident. So assuming he takes AP chem or AP bio, he should take the sat subject test in that subject.

There's no reason to take the sat chem, sat bio, AND sat physics, period.

YES, college want to see the SAT II/subject scores too. Period. It's a requirement, so just get used to it.

Of course there's a point of diminishing returns--does he want to be a science major? then he should take the hardest honors or AP science courses available to him, and ace them. No one gives a darn about AP stats or AP foreign language if they couldn't have been taken by any normally rigorous schedule that included APs in calc, chem, bio, history, etc.

There are two reasons to take an AP test without taking the course. The first is to prove to a college that you're an overachiever--your school doesn't offer the course, or couldn't accommodate your schedule, and yet you did it anyway (and aced it..getting a 3 isn't going to help.)

The second reason is because you're trying to spend as little time as possible taking those courses in college, and you're taking the test to get college credit for the course. In terms of sciences, if your son wants to be in science, then the AP credit is a BAD DEAL anyway, because he should absolutely positively retake freshman calc, freshman phys, freshman chem and use the AP course, maybe the honors versions thereof, but he should not try to get out of those courses.

momof4 said...

None of my kids took a SAT in a subject in which they took a junior-year AP class; they just took the AP test. However, because of the nature of their AP chem (posted above) they were pretty confident that their score would be at least a 4 (it was). If the AP science was a first-level or of questionable rigor, some kids might want to take the SAT in the subject because the AP result would be more in doubt.

Their middle school had a very good teacher for Spanish 1-2, and the high school honors/AP classes were outstanding; all taught completely in Spanish. Both kids spent the summer after sophomore year doing language study in Spain and they still had only 4s on the AP Language test; according to their teachers, it's very rare for anyone who hasn't grown up with Spanish to get a 5. That might make an AP foreign language less important than another AP for some kids.

Not all kids do this, but my kids and most of their friends used their AP scores either to meet the usual freshman general-ed/distribution requirements or to start at a higher level. By starting college as full sophomores or taking sophomore-level classes, they had better scheduling options and they had the option of graduating early or double-triple majoring or doing internships/TAs without extending their time in school.

It probably varies by field, but internships, both summer and school-year, and TA options can make a big difference in the job search after graduation. My youngest was told specifically, after hiring, that two summer internships, 2 semesters of the same school-year internship and 3 semesters teaching a section of the freshman finance class (and the strong rec by the professor) made the first-choice job offer happen.

SteveH said...

"The top schools want to see the SAT or ACT, the SAT math test, and one science SAT subject test..."

This is what I want to know; what is expected and what might cause a red flag. I have no desire to push him do many tests and courses to prove that he is an over-achiever. I would hope that his grades would speak for themselves. If his grades aren't that great, then I don't think that a bunch of other stuff will make up for it.

So, colleges expect SAT II results even if you get a 5 on the AP test?

"There's no reason to take the sat chem, sat bio, AND sat physics, period."

But will they be surprised to see AP Stat rather than AP Bio, assuming that you took AP Chem and AP Physics? I don't want him to go crazy trying to prove that he's something he isn't. However, I don't want him to end up with good grades and test scores, but find out that colleges thought he wasn't enough of a high achiever. There is a limit to how much I expect him to play that game, but I would like to know what the game is.

Allison said...

I don't know who has a high opinion of the AP stat class. It may be a great class when taught well, but I don't know what purpose it serves in the college hierarchy.

That's because there's no standard of "Statistics" in college. Sci and eng majors are expected to take real discrete math or probability theory, and as appropriate to learn statistics in their experimental methods courses data analysis (think Bevington in physics), social science majors take a very different stat course; pre meds take another version, and others can often take a fluff course.

In addition, probability and statistics courses are notoriously wrong, taught with actual errors, and I am skeptical that most high school math teachers are able to teach this material without confusing their students. Heck, most profs at college can't do it without inserting several fallacies into their students.

Beyond that, I personally think AP stats is viewed as kind of filler course for kids on the AP track but burnt out. In every single school I'm aware of here in MN, AP stat is the alternative class for students who choose not to take AP calc--AP calc would be hard, or they aren't prepared well enough to succeed, so instead they take AP stat. There's nothing "lower" left for them, but they've got to fill that 4th year math slot.

Now, AP bio has other problems--what's a standard bio course in college?--but it's a year long course, with an enormous amount of material on it. And what's the alternative? To take a regular bio course? Again, top schools are looking for students to take the hardest courses they can, so it doesn't make sense to "compare" a stat course to a bio course, when bio is required and may be taught at a variety of levels, but stat is an elective in math for everyone or nearly everyone.

by SAT II you mean the math test? Or the subject tests? (Aren't they called SAT subject tests?) APs and SAT subject tests are apples and oranges. The SAT subject tests are like the achievement tests were 2 decades ago. Colleges expect everyone to take the subject tests to compare everyone along the same axis. Not everyone is at a school offering all AP courses in all the sciences, or even in most sciences. Plus, the 5 on the AP is a college board score, not normed the way subject tests are, where some number (a 500, I'd guess) is the 50th percentile.

Allison said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Allison said...

--Does it really impress colleges to see someone with a loaded science/math schedule and little else?

Look, this is probably not the way to formulate the problem.

Colleges aren't choosing your kid over not choosing your kid; they are choosing your kid over some OTHER kid. So what they are looking for is an impression of who the kid is. Who is this kid? And why do I want him here, more than my impression of wanting that other kid here?

At the Stanfords and MITs, they could choose the kids who are brilliant at everything, who are math-sci loaded and winning gold medals in triple jump while playing at Carnegie Hall, because they've got so many of those kids applying. But again, they might all look like that, so they are still looking for the "who is this kid" and true or false, constructing a narrative and basing their votes on whether this kid resonates with them on some level.

At slightly less highly competitive schools, if this kid is a math-sci geek who is brilliant at it and loves it and enthuses it and is happy, then a math-sci school is going to like that kid moreso than a kid who is great in everything but not terrible enthused about anything.

Likewise, schools who see someone reaching out to be terrific in everything will like that more than someone who doesn't reach out and take risks.

If your son wants to be a double major music and chem, that's clearly relatively rare, and that will be viewed as "who he is", and that will help clarify the individual choices about which AP was taken. If your son doesn't know who he is or what he wants or can't state that in an app, then the admissions folks aren't going to know either, and then they will look at the very same choices with different lenses, and may see the same choices as indicating indecision.

In the end, your son will probably choose what to do based on what he can handle at the time. I took the AP bio test while taking an honors bio course just by following the syllabus of another school's AP bio class--which meant basically getting 8 weeks ahead of my own course. I spent several months reading and outlining my bio book every night. I didn't think it was difficult, and I didn't think it was overwhelming. In fact, I didn't even tell my parents I was doing it. It seemed like a reasonable thing to do at the time. If I'd had three sports and one instrument, I might have chosen differently. It's difficult to gauge ahead of time, and in the end, your son will choose for himself.

Allison said...

--My son is mostly interested in physics and chemistry, so not getting to AP Biology might relax his schedule a little bit. My goal is to find a nice line between giving him a rigorous schedule and getting weird about it.

I think this might not be the way to think about AP classes.

I don't think you should think that the AP is just a higher-pressure version of the same course, whatever it is. It's a different course with different textbooks, a different focus, and at most schools, a different teacher. These may simply be the only courses taught by the one teacher who's great at your school in that subject--and so you'd want to take that course because you'd get more out of it.

The APs may be the only courses without arts-n-crafts projects. They may be the only class all his friends are taking. And lastly, they may be much more interesting than the regular level courses, enough that you don't think he's interested in that subject now, but that's because he's never seen it at a rigorous enough level to bring it alive.

Anonymous said...

AP stats is an elective in our school. I assume it's that way everywhere, but I wouldn't know. I just didn't understand why so many other schools were not allowing it to be taken sooner than junior year.

AP econ at our school is also an elective, but it's taking the place of Western Civ, which most of the kids are taking.

At what point is the SAT Math test taken? There are two, correct? I feel like we should be hearing about it, but I haven't heard anything, and I've learned not to wait.


Lisa said...

I have to say that I haven't found the AP classes to have any less of the ridiculous projects than regular classes. You just have to do them on top of actual work. My only graduate took AP Chem, Biology, German, Psych, Econ, Environmental Science and English and there were projects in all of them.

SteveH said...

"..but they've got to fill that 4th year math slot."

My son will take AP calc in his junior year and there is nothing left.

" .. it doesn't make sense to 'compare' a stat course to a bio course.."

It's a matter of picking choices from a menu of available courses. I don't know if he can get out of a 4th year of math and fill the slot with something like AP biology. Perhaps they have a way for him to take a college course.

"Aren't they called SAT subject tests?"

I took the achievement tests when I was growing up, but I'm confused about these tests now and whether colleges expect them, especially now that there are the AP tests. I suppose I need to get up to speed on this.

"Who is this kid?"

I'm not so much worried about that. I'm trying to get a feel for how certain courses and tests are viewed. I don't want him to feel like he has to take all sorts of courses just to prove that he can do it. Perhaps that won't cut it at the top level, but I would rather that he was driven by his interests and not the competition. Having said that, I don't know which things are a minimum before a college cares to even find out who this kid is.

What I'm hearing for math/science kids are SAT (or ACT), the math SAT test, and one SAT subject test. I assume that one would have to take AP calc and 2 of the 3 big AP science courses. Add in a few other AP classes for good measure.

Allison said...

To first degree, the achievement tests are now called the SAT subject tests, and they are normed more like the SAT, against a typical high school curriculum rather than AP courses which define their own required material (which can change year to year), are graded in some special way and not normed. And yes, the SAT subject tests are expected as the achievement tests were. These tests--the SAT, the SAT math test, and the SAT subject tests should all be taken junior year if possible, to allow retesting if interested during fall term Sr year.

What things are necessary at a minimum depends on the caliber of the school to which he applies, and how things are viewed will depend on that too. Different schools have a different "fit", and will view these courses differently--because all they really look at is "always took the most challenging courses possible/generally did/sometimes did", and then they read the app. The answer is it's a intuitive judgment call, and a sloppy process. What someone may read as laziness on his part someone else may read as time and space for spiritual growth.

Just as his musical prowess and achievement would be measured differently at Berklee from a state school, so too will his sci/math/liberal arts achievements.

You meant nothing left other than AP stat? Why not take AP musical theory then?

re: what to do after AP calc as a junior, this is a question of interests, yes. If he's interested in a real science program, you should be finding a way to get him to take a college math course somehow. When I was in high school, UC San Diego had a special program hs juniors could apply to where they could take up to two college courses a term as seniors. The application was a cutoff based on a complicated GPA computation, essentially. Other kids went to a local private college and took college calc there instead. Community colleges may offer an appropriate course as well. If by then he's not so interested in a STEM college major, then it won't matter really whether it's AP bio or math, will it?

SteveH said...

"always took the most challenging courses possible"

This is what I'm trying to figure out. I think there is a tendency for kids to feel that they've never done enough, whatever level they're at. My son will have to take a math course in his senior year, and the only reasonable choice is AP Stat. I hope he doesn't have to go to a college to show some sort of drive to take the most challenging courses. I want him to take AP Music theory and not have to worry that he really should be taking AP Biology, even if he is headed for a STEM career.

For my son, if he goes into a STEM program, his music should be a plus, but if he wants to go to Curtis or NEC for music performance, they won't care much about his science and math courses. There are lots of science/music kids out there and it would be interesting to hear some of their thoughts about the choice.

Allison said...

Are you sure taking a year off of calculus is "the most reasonable" choice? Are you sure AP stat is a course that won't be mind numbingly awful? Are you sure that he won't WANT to be taking college courses?

"I hope he doesn't have to go to a college to show some sort of drive to take the most challenging courses." I guess I don't understand the "doesn't have to" here. Lots of kids want to take the most challenging courses, want to take them at college, want to keep going. Some might be pushing themselves, some might just see it as the natural thing to do next.

Your son will lead the way by that point, and maybe what you think is best now won't line up anyway. Not to mention, people do change their mind, even in college. I knew kids at MIT and Cal who became music majors instead of sci/eng, and I knew music majors at Cal who became CS majors.

Anonymous said...

Right, the SAT II or SAT Subject tests are basically the old achievement tests. The big difference now is that fewer schools are requiring them, and those that do require two tests rather than three, now that the SAT has the writing test. Saying the subject tests are expected is probably overstating things. It varies a lot depending on how competitive the college is, but it certainly doesn't hurt to have them already.

By the way, the Common Application site has a nice list of many colleges, private and public, and what they require. It is a good place to get a feel for what you are likely to need.

AP scores are usually not considered in admissions. Stanford, for example, will tell you directly they don't consider them or want them during the admissions process.

For both the SAT and SAT Subject tests, you need to take them by first semester senior year. For the subject tests, in particular, it is usually best to take them right after junior year (when material is fresh) and choose exams where you think you will do well. Most schools that ask for subject tests don't require any tests in particular, although there are two levels of Math (Level 1 and Level 2), and if you do opt for the math subject exam, they recommend you choose Level 2 (which goes up to pre-calc).

A common recommendation is to take the SAT in junior year, so that you have your scores and can decide if it is worth retaking it.

Also, I want to second Allison's point -- students change their minds a lot! We used to assign advisors based on what students marked on their applications, and we found there was so much change between what they marked in January and what they decided on in August, that it wasn't useful a lot of the time. It is often better for a student to have a couple ideas of what they might want to major in, and choose a school where there is room for all those options.


SteveH said...

"Are you sure taking a year off of calculus is 'the most reasonable' choice?"

Well, now that you put it that way, it's obvious that he has to do something even if it means trying to pick up a college course. His school calls the course just AP calculus. I assume that they mean the AB version only. Do schools ever allow kids to design their own course using some sort of "special topics" class.

SteveH said...

"the Common Application site has a nice list of many colleges, private and public, and what they require."

Perfect! Thank you.

"AP scores are usually not considered in admissions."

Really? I can see that colleges might not be interested in letting students get advanced placement, but they don't even want to see your AP test scores; only your grades in the courses? Is taking an AP course only symbolic in terms of showing that you are taking a rigorous schedule?

"it is usually best to take them right after junior year "

That sounds like you should plan ahead to make sure you take those courses in your junior year rather than your senior year.

" choose Level 2 (which goes up to pre-calc)."

Only to pre-calc, but they don't want to see the AP calc score?

"A common recommendation is to take the SAT in junior year"

I assume that this is at the end of the junior year. Also, how important is the PSAT and any sort of National Merit Scholarship recognition? My niece claimed that it got her a lot of early attention from colleges. Or, is that not very meaningful?

As for changing his mind, we've already noticed that NEC has 5-year programs with both Tufts and Harvard. There is also Eastman at U. of Rochester and Jacobs at IU.

momof4 said...

Even at the school my older kids attended, even the very top kids only had a few AP classes as juniors, usually chem or bio, a foreign language and a history. Of course, this was because of the honors prerequisites and the calc BC corequisite for the AP physics (don't remember the letters, but it was the calc-based one) - and the colleges knew this was the case. I would guess much more would be expected, starting in sophomore year, if there were no prerequisites. The senior year AP scores don't play into admisssions because they aren't available until the summer after senior year, but the courses on the first-semester senior transcript show strength of schedule.

At that school, all the top kids took the PSAT as sophomores, and perhaps the SAT as well - for practice. As far as National Merit awards short of the scholarship level, my experience is that it won't trump coursework and the strength of the school (shows on school profile). I was at a UNC Chapel Hill admissions session for out-of-state kids and the presenter said they expect AP science (bio, chem, physics only), AP calc, couple of other APs and at least 4 years of a foreign language. One girl said she didn't have any APs but she was a Nat Merit semifinalist; he said that the coursework mattered. He was pretty blunt; she left the room in tears. It's a nice extra. BTW, the cut scores vary widely according to state.

Allison said...

--That sounds like you should plan ahead to make sure you take those courses in your junior year rather than your senior year.

I think the plan is pretty normal--you take one year of science in soph, junior and senior year each. in some order, that's bio/chem/phys. WSo you take the SAT subject tests in either what you took your soph year or your junior year. The subject tests are in bio/chem/phys, so as long as you took science every year, this isn't hard. And again, the subject matter is geared to a standard hs curriculum, not an AP one. I don't know anyone who took two sciences senior year, unless they were electives or at a school like Bronx Sci or Stuy or something.

Now, it may be more complicated if the AP courses required a year of that science as a prereq, but you've still taken enough science to do well on the SAT subject test.

Anonymous said...

The PSAT is important for a shot at National Merit, less for "attention" from colleges (which mostly means a big box of junk mail, which admittedly is kind of fun) than for some scholarship money. Most folks don't get the big awards, but there are smaller awards out there too. For most students who haven't taken the SAT before, the PSAT is also good practice. I was a weirdo who had taken the SAT a bunch of times for CTY, so that was less of an issue.

As for AP scores, Stanford lays it out here:
Other schools may vary, but in general there is a desire to avoid an "AP arms race," especially students filling in with classes like AP Stats or Environmental Science. Some schools won't even take APs during the admissions process.

For the SAT, your son should take it when it is convenient in the junior year. The only advantage to waiting is if it helps build his vocabulary, but (for example) if he spent some time prepping in the summer after his sophomore year, it might be sensible to get the SAT out of the way earlier in his junior year, maybe even right after the PSAT, figuring he'd take the subject exams in the spring. There isn't a standard here, really.

By the way, I'd also argue against AP Stats for a student who already had AP Calc, unless the stats teacher was outstanding. AP Stats is at the level of an Econ/Psych stats course, which is pretty plug-and-chug. Ask about an independent study or enrollment at a local college. My senior year, there was an agreement with the local CalState and I took classes there with the high school's blessing.


ChemProf said...

Oh, and another reason not to require some set number of APs is that the number offered varies a lot by high school. At our local school, there is AP Bio and AP Chem, but no AP Physics (only Honors). While some colleges (particularly large publics) may say that students who don't take all three APs aren't competitive, they are potentially writing off whole sets of kids. What they don't want to see, though, is a kid who could have taken AP Bio who opts for regular Biology. That suggests someone who didn't take the most challenging coursework that they could.


SteveH said...

"...students who don't take all three APs aren't competitive,..."

I'm trying to figure out whether my son should take AP Biology (in addition to AP chem and AP physics) because his school offers the course. Will they think that he isn't taking the most challenging coursework? He will take honors biology as a sophomore, but I don't think he is interested enough to take the AP version (honors bio is a prereq). It's a matter of interest, not one of looking for an easier route.

ChemProf said...

Well, the example where they wanted to see all three AP science classes was UNC-Chapel Hill's meeting for out of state students. The requirements for out of state students for a large private are usually pretty stiff - they want to admit students who can pay the bills and also raise the average profile. Typically, liberal arts colleges will be more flexible, and of course conservatories are looking for something else entirely.

Across the board, given your son's other strengths, I doubt that having "only" honors Bio on his record would be a big problem. But again, it depends on where you are applying and what else he is taking. If he's taking calculus II at a college someplace, then it matters less. If he is taking the year off from math, it might matter more. As Allison says, if he's presenting as a student interested in Chemistry and Music, he may get attention from that unusual combination, and they will care less about a "missing" AP class.

Also, the most competitive colleges accept 5-10% of their applicants. This varies a LOT over even (for example) the top 10 Liberal Arts Colleges, say from 16% for Pomona (#6) to 30% for Carleton (#8). (For simplicity, I'm using USNews rankings.) Getting in to a college that accepts less than 1/5 of their applicants is a crapshoot, regardless of your preparation. The top five "National Universities" are even harder to predict, as they accept 7-10% of their applicants. It all depends on your goal.

ChemProf said...

Sorry, I meant to say "The requirements for out of state students for a large PUBLIC are usually pretty stiff"

momof4 said...

I did not mean that UNC Chapel Hill wanted to see three AP sciences; they wanted to see at least one, but bio, chem and physics were the only APs that they defined as sciences - astronomy, environmental science, physiology etc. did not qualify, even if they were APs. That was also true of other schools my kids visited. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that AP stats, psych, econ etc. are also seen as less desirable - although econ might help someone going into a business/finance major, but as an extra.

ChemProf said...

OK, momof4, that is more in line with what I've seen. Having AP Calc, AP Chem, and AP Physics (plus AP English?) would be a strong record, and adding another AP probably wouldn't be that big of a draw. But yes, my experience is that colleges aren't that impressed by the other AP classes. AP US History isn't a bad one, for clearing out gen eds, but if you want to be a history major, you should still plan to retake the college class.

VickyS said...

My older son is a senior who had AP Calc AB last year. The only math class "left" at the school was AP Stats--which is two giant steps backward from AP Calc. However, when there is enough interest, the math teacher offers a spring semester of AP Calc BC (I have no idea how this is actually done). He will be taking this "BC" class this spring, which we're both very grateful for b/c without it, his senior year would have been, basically, a year away from math, which you don't want right before college!

Also, as for the SAT subject tests, they are, indeed, called the SAT II now. Achievement test, subject test, SAT II--one and the same. Schools that require them include the University of California system and a fair number of East Coast schools. None in the midwest that I've seen. I'd recommend taking them in May or June of the year you take the subject...even if that's 9th or 10th grade. Three max, usually two are needed. Yes, some schools (but not all) allow you to avoid them if you have ACT scores.

Math Level II--take it right after PreCalc. Don't wait until later, because you might forget the easy stuff! I think (someone correct me if I'm wrong) it can even be taken after a good Algebra II class.

And yes, SAT II subject scores are required regardless of whether you are taking AP classes or tests. I have seen NO colleges that allow AP scores to be used instead. They are apples and oranges.

Sounds like I'm one of the few here who have a kid applying to college this year. AP scores are basically self-reported, on the Common App or otherwise on the application. We haven't sent the official scores to any school; no reason. If he is admitted to a school that gives credit for AP, then they will want the scores...if he wants the credit (he does not). He took the AP courses for the course content, which imho is the reason to take them.

SteveH said...

"when there is enough interest, the math teacher offers a spring semester of AP Calc BC "

I don't know whether I could push for this since the lower schools never produce anyone who is an extra year ahead. It seems clear that more could if given a chance.

"Math Level II--take it right after PreCalc. "


"I have seen NO colleges that allow AP scores to be used instead."

That's interesting. I read ChemProf's link to Stanford about their position on the AP arms race. It's nice to know that colleges are interested in potential and not on how fast you get there. However, they do want to see students challenging themselves with the toughest classes. I guess the key is to focus that effort on a few key AP classes rather than a total number.

Our high school does drive the AP arms race by weighting the AP classes as 3.7, the honors classes as 3.4, and the CP classes as 3.0. This affects only the class rank, but since this is published, everyone focuses on it. One girl I talked to was taking 5 AP classes as a senior, but they did not include AP calc or one of the big three science classes.

Anonymous said...

Remember that AP Calc BC and AP Physics C are both full year college courses. Each will get you a full year of college credit. That was really helpful for me as a math-physics double major. Starting in the sophomore classes made it easy to graduate on time with 2 hard majors.

Allison said...

re: Calc BC: that's simply not true that is not worth a full year of college calc. From the college board web site:
"Calculus BC is a full-year course in the calculus of functions of a single variable."

Depending on structure, generally either the 2nd term of calc at a semester school or 3rd term at a quarter school is multivariable calc. Calc BC is NOT multivariable. It's possible some schools structure it differently, but it's unlikely kids in STEM fields will get a full year of calc for BC.

I don't have the faintest clue how you could make Calc BC even a semester course in length beyond Calc AB, and certainly not a year.
Getting a 5 on the AB guarantees you a 4 on the BC because 80% of the material is the same. BC includes the AB material plus parametric equations (polar coordinates), polynomial approximations and series, like taylor series expansions, and a few applications of integrals. (for specifics, go here:

I took the BC test after an AB course and got a 5. I took it on the recommendation of my teacher who might have suggested I read up on series, which I hadn't seen since pre calc, but that was about it-everything else we'd covered.

Again, I'll repeat: most STEM students SHOULD NOT take the course credit. There are substantial reasons to retake college calc in college. If you're that well prepared, take the honors version, nearly every school has one. But most STEM students will be better off *actually thinking* about what the mean value theorem means, what instantaneous rate of change means, etc. Skip that, and most students will find they are suddenly struggling in multivariate or in E&M because they know how to crank out the calculus, but have no idea what it means.

re: getting a year of physics for AP phys C: that means taking TWO physics C tests (given separately, and not all ap phys C classes attempt this.)

Most schools won't give you a year for it, especially if their phys sequence had a lab attached. One reason is again, the weakness the students' multivariate calc preparation, and therefore, their weakness in E&M. You won't have learned what a line integral is in AP calc AB or BC, nor what del, div, and grad mean.

VickyS said...

And my understanding is the AP Calc AB and AP Calc BC are usually either/or options. My son is taking BC this year only to stay "fresh" for Calculus in college (since AP Stats, his other math class, is very different). His other option would be to sit in on Calc AB again (for no credit) which many kids do. It's just what they need to do, given the resources of the school.

He has no intention of asking for credit in college or skipping Calc in college, although he got a 5 on the exam. 75% of the kids in the class got 5's. Outstanding teacher.

One more word about AP scores. While the scores themselves are not considered in the admissions process and, basically, are self-reported on the Common App and other school apps (oddly, you cannot even request those scores be sent to schools online--you have to call or write a letter) it is very important to colleges like Stanford to show that you have TAKEN the highest level classes available, and done well in them. So one option is to take the classes, skip the tests.

Our school makes kids take the tests b/c it insures that they do the work during the class.

One last note about AP Stats. Check the College Board website in the teacher section and see what qualifications the AP Stats teachers need--they seem to be trying to bump up offerings of AP Stats with a "you, too, can teach AP Stats" kind of promotion! At least that was true when I looked at it in the fall--gotta run so don't have time to check it this moment!

Anonymous said...

Allison, maybe it's different when you went to school. At my school the first semester of calc was derivatives and the beginning of integrals and the second semester of calc was the rest of integrals and then series. So I got a full year of calc credit from a 4 on the BC. (If you got a 5 they gave you credit for honors cal.) Multivariate calc and diffy-Q was the sophomore courses for physics majors.

Here you would be stupid to take cal again if you got credit from it in high school. Total waste of your time and money.

SteveH said...

I just found out today from my son's math teacher (because I asked) that yes, the AMC tests were discussed in class but my son didn't show any interest. (Probably because he knows nothing about them!) My son didn't mention this to me so that I could follow up. The school web site says nothing about giving the test, but it turns out that 25-30 kids take the AMC10 or 12 test each year. His teacher did say that they put his name on the list in case he changed his mind. The test is next week. Why am I finding out about this now? Here I was thinking that taking the AMC test was fairly unusual when in reality, it is quite common.

We also don't know anything about the school's Math League. In fact, there is almost nothing on the school's web site about any after-school activity. Schools talk about 21st century skills for kids, but they apparently don't expect the skills for themselves.

I also found out that even though the AP calc class is AB, they help those who want to work on their own to prepare for taking the BC test.

I believe that SusanS has been surprised like this several times. I feel like asking the school: "What else don't I know?"

Grace Nunez said...

There is so much that a "typical" parent does not know. And I don't think the KTM crowd is typical, BTW. We have to rely on the schools for so much, but things fall through the cracks. And some of this stuff is very complicated.

Grace Nunez said...

A comment on using AP courses for college credit -

For the non-STEM student in particular, those credits can come in handy. I was surprised to learn that my son's advisor told him that his AP credits could be used to graduate college in three years and would make it easier for him to double major. And this is at a top ten school with a strong academic reputation.

Anonymous said...


I think I did mention my own surprise at the AMC test last year. At least our school had all honors math kids take it, but I heard nothing about it until I was handed a permission slip the day before he was to take it.

Had I known, I would have downloaded their practice problems just to give him an idea of what he'd be facing. He tends to do better with a little prep. As it happened, he did rank first in his class (which he had to find out from another student since they only announced the top 3 in freshman math classes), but he didn't make the cutoff for the next level. Who knows if he would have improved with a little more knowledge of what was on the test. No one even mentioned the AMC website and it isn't anywhere on the school's site.

He also got invited to be on a competitive academic team that we didn't know about since it isn't advertised. He happened to sign up for another club and the sponsor of that club ran the academic one. We had no idea. If he had shown up to this club last year, I'm sure he would have been invited on it, so he lost a year because he wasn't in the right place at the right time.

The gatekeeping/fiefdom business is a royal pain and it seriously cuts into the opportunities that might be out there for your kid. I have many similar stories. Like Steve's son, my son didn't realize last year that the AMC was probably a good thing for him so he never mentioned it to me.


SteveH said...

" And I don't think the KTM crowd is typical, BTW."

And yet, here I am being surprised by what I found out. It's not that our high school is trying to hide anything. Perhaps this is so familiar to them that they can't put themselves in a new parent's shoes. The guidance department has each child develop their own ILP over 4 years, and claims that the process includes parents. I haven't seen that. Besides, I think their focus is on just getting kids to care and pay attention to their future. You're on your own for anything more than that. Much of this could easily be solved by putting more information on their web site.

I also just found out that they give the AMC test during a regular class period. I suppose I should be glad that we're finding this out when he is a freshman.

SteveH said...

"I heard nothing about it until I was handed a permission slip the day before he was to take it."

Wow! I got a week or so, but that was only because I happened to ask. If I didn't, he might have come home one day and told me that he didn't do anything in math class because the others were taking the AMC test.

"The gatekeeping/fiefdom business is a royal pain .."

I don't see it so much as a deliberate thing (yet), but I will agree that opportunities won't happen unless you push or ask the right questions. So now I'm trying to figure out what questions to ask. After rereading the Wissner-Gross book, I still won't hop on her extreme resume-building approach, but I would like to find opportunities that offer the biggest bang for my son's time.

My impression now is that it's not good to ignore contest math, which seems to include things never really taught in the regular math classes. I don't care whether he joins the Math League, but we might have to spend some time preparing for AMC-type questions.

kcab said...

My impression now is that it's not good to ignore contest math, which seems to include things never really taught in the regular math classes. I don't care whether he joins the Math League, but we might have to spend some time preparing for AMC-type questions.
You know about AOPS & their Alcumus site, right? I can't recall whose kid has done classes with them and whose hasn't.

I'm not sure if it is or is not gate-keeping, but there are a lot more things possible than are commonly advertised. Sometimes these only become apparent once a family starts trying to sort out something extra and mentions it to the schools.

Anonymous said...

I agree that they've probably always done things a certain way, so it's not malevolent in any way, and with big high schools, they may believe there are plenty of opportunities for everyone. However, I'm planning on using the word "gatekeeping" at some point so that somebody might actually start to think about it differently.

I agree about the Wissner-Gross book being almost over the top, but if I hadn't read that book a few years ago, I wouldn't have known about many of these issues. I certainly wouldn't have pushed my middle school into having a Mathcounts team, which turned out to be great for my son.