Student Achievement & Curriculum

STUDENT PERFORMANCE

Student achievement is often discussed in terms of only one measure – academics.  Academics meaning grades, test scores, and enrollment in AP/Honors classes.  And there is an assumption that these academic measures are the only standard that is used to evaluate student success, which is evidenced by college admissions.  To this longheld belief, I would say that it is complicated.  Yes, colleges absolutely care if a student will be able to perform well academically.  Afterall, if a student isn’t able to keep up with the academics, that will require the school to allocate more resources towards student support services; or the student may simply withdraw from the school which will negatively impact the college’s graduation rates.  So, yes, demonstrating an ability to do well academically matters in college admissions.  But what is becoming increasingly more important is the contributions that student will make while they are at college.  What will be that student’s impact on their college community, as demonstrated by their impact on their high school community or community at large, whether that is the state, national, or international scene?  That is the student performance that really sets a student apart from their peers.  And as a high performing school district, many of our students meet that mark in their service to the school, in athletics, arts, and other activities such as speech and debate or robotics.  These are the real world passions and explorations that drive our children to create, communicate, collaborate and critically think about their world.

The movement away from test scores is scaring parents who feel their children will be at a disadvantage because they won’t be able to stand out as high performers.  But the reality is that the movement away from test scores is liberating.  It frees students to pursue those deeper skills and experiences that will drive them closer to understanding their own future college and career paths.  The deemphasis on testing will allow students to explore options where their future aspirations may be a better fit and not just a ranked number on a list of U.S. News and World report colleges.  And it is this fit within the college culture that will lead to college students being more successful and independent because they are where they are meant to be so they will not just survive, but thrive.

EARLY COLLEGE ACCESS

Students enroll in Advanced Placement (AP) classes and college classes for three main reasons. One: to get college credit so their college schedule is more flexible. Two: to enroll in more advanced courses of interest to them. Three: a rigorous course schedule can strengthen a college application. 

San Marino schools need to open access to the students who are ready to be challenged by creating more opportunities to take advanced level coursework. That means providing summer school courses that count toward fulfilling pre-requirements, accepting credit from accredited online schools for elective credit, and expanding online and community college dual-enrollment credit options. Teachers must also focus on using the AP curriculum for the AP exams so they are prepared to learn the test material at a pace and depth of knowledge that is appropriate. Students should be able to take courses in place of their high school graduation requirements where appropriate so the students can take courses that are interesting to them and meet their academic level of learning. The course curriculum is limited by the financial constraints of our district’s resources, so we need to look outside the district for ways to supplement our offerings in ways that make sense for families and students.

I want to address the concern that San Marino High School does not offer enough AP classes. The solution is not to simply say “add more classes” without carefully considering other related issues. The school lacks funding to hire additional AP teachers. The master schedule as it currently exists does not accommodate space for more courses unless students sacrifice their electives. Simply adding more AP courses to a student’s schedule can lead to more stress and less time for extracurricular activities, time for family and friends, and sleep. When colleges evaluate an applicant for admission, it is important that the course load reflect a student’s curricular interests and abilities. 

Taking this into consideration, I wanted to study the local schools and AP availability. Looking at APs in the lens of school choice, I looked at the schools and their AP courses within the context of the school profiles. The complete presentation can be viewed here: How Does San Marino High School Compare to Local Schools?

In taking a closer look at AP course availability, I found some interesting data. The number of courses at SMHS is the same or lower than other local schools, including both private and public schools. In some cases, this can be attributed to the lack of variety in mostly two subject areas: social science and world languages. Many schools had two out of four science subjects, but only a few schools had all four subjects (chemistry, biology, physics, and environmental science); San Marino has 3 courses, but students take the fourth subject exam in physics and perform well, earning AP exam credit. Most of the schools offered the same math subject courses. The greatest variety was in the offering of Music and Art AP coursework. A detailed spreadsheet can be viewed here: AP Classes.