AP vs. Honors

Ames High School prides itself on providing a variety of academic opportunities for its students. Among these are Advanced Placement (AP) and Honors classes, advanced alternatives to “regular” classes. During the last few years, AHS has greatly increased the number and level of advanced classes it offers. In most cases, it has changed Honors classes to AP ones. These changes have affected the curriculum of those classes, thus affecting both students and teachers. Last year, AP Psychology and AP Biology were introduced. This year, AP Chemistry, AP English Language and Composition, and Honors World Studies were added. Now AHS offers a total of 11 AP classes, three online ones, and three Honors classes. AP and Honors classes are often assumed to be pretty much the same, but the two are distinctly different. AP classes are generally considered harder than Honors classes, but it is more difficult to get into Honors classes since one has to meet certain criteria, including an overall GPA of at least 3.25. The school wants challenging classes to be available to everyone, so this is one of the reasons that it is cutting down on the number of Honors classes. AHS also wants to improve its status in national high school rankings, which are decided by the average number of AP classes taken per student. In addition, the curriculums of AP classes and Honors classes are decided differently. Teachers of AP courses must have their syllabi approved by the College Board, sponsor of the AP program, in order for their course to be considered AP. “I like how AP classes must follow a rigid curriculum,” senior Amy Zhong said. “In Honors classes, often the course is either too slow or too easy because the teacher is allowed to decide the curriculum.” However, some students enjoy Honors classes for the same reason. “Honors classes are nice because the teacher has time to teach more about the interesting topics instead of just skimming over everything,” junior Sarah Israel said. “There is also less pressure to take the exam at the end of the year.” The AP exam is the primary difference between AP and Honors classes. Students can choose whether or not to take the AP exam after taking the course. Although each AP exam takes a stressful three hours, many AHS students take them every spring. This is because most colleges and universities in the U.S. will offer credit for an AP class if the student scores high enough (usually at least a 3 or 4 out of 5) on the AP exam for that class. Having to prepare their students for the all-encompassing AP exam is a daunting task for teachers. For example, Mr. Webb, the AP English Language and Composition teacher, had to make major revisions to his original Honors American Literature curriculum in order for it to satisfy the College Board requirements. “There’s a lot of good literature that won’t get read now,” Webb said. “I had to drop a total of eight novels.” The AP course focuses on rhetoric, while the Honors course focused on literature. Mr. Webb believes students will benefit from the AP course though, because “rhetoric is no longer a gap in the English curriculum at this school.” The new AP teachers are trying their best to teach their new courses. Mr. Junck, the AP Chemistry teacher, said, “At this point it’s hard to tell how effective the class will be. It won’t be until summer until we know. It will take a few years before I feel really comfortable with the labs and know how long to spend on each topic.”