Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Garfield may be capping the number of AP Classes one can take.

Details are fairly sketchy at the moment so I'll update as this becomes more clear. I'm assuming this is 3 classes per year.

"My child reported that three AP classes would be the limit, and students would need to request a waiver if they wanted to take more than 3. No details about if waivers would be granted, what are the reasons that would be accepted, etc. The teacher stated that other schools, like Lakeside, limit the amount of AP's a student can take. That said, my child has been planning on taking 4 AP classes next year and didn't seem concerned about this being a problem from what was said by the teacher. Not sure if that's going to be the reality or if space in AP classes will be limited. I find it a curious and worrisome development, especially when other SPS high school aren't doing this. It's really a shame that yet again Garfield can't just come out with a proper announcement to families about this change. We're left going off of what our kids say and what we read on blogs"
From today's Garfield weekly newsletter:
"10th Grade AP Info. Night — Wednesday, Feb. 15 Attention 10th graders who are interested in taking multiple AP classes next year! Garfield is hosting a 10th Grade AP Info. Night on Wednesday, Feb. 15 @ 6 PM in the Quincy Jones Performing Arts Center. Parents, families and students are invited to learn about the stress and workload of junior year from AP teachers, counselors, and other students." 

From the Garfield PTA meeting notes:  http://www.garfieldptsa.org/ptsa/ptsa-general-meeting-1-24/

AP Classes: There has been a big increase in anxiety and stress in students taking multiple AP classes. A student intervention team meeting discussed adding to course descriptions and request sheets the number of hours of homework required for each AP course so students can balance that with their other activities. An AP Advising Night will be held 6 - 7:30 PM on Wednesday, Feb. 15 for students, parents/guardians (especially of 10th graders), teachers, and counselors. A too-competitive environment "can be toxic;" often HCC students feel peer pressure from cohort to take AP classes.

If you're considering Garfield there's a lot more detail on course offerings embedded in the note. I'd recommend reading through them.

NOTE: As I recently was reminded, our kids especially the older one sometimes read this blog as well, comment appropriately.


Megan Hazen said...

When I was doing college interviews in the past two years it was not uncommon for kids to come in with 5 AP exams under their belts. I don't know what that means in terms of taking classes, but it doesn't seem like they were limited to 3.

ghs said...

I have mixed feelings about discussing individual teachers on a public blog like this, but if they are lying to their students (Lakeside doesn't teach AP courses, and they don't put artificial limits on the challenging courses that their students can take!), we should know who this is so we can un-misinform them. Maybe North Seattle Parent could just share what dept this teacher is in?

To the topic at hand, for many APP/HCC students, the natural progression of courses will have them taking at least 4, if not 5 AP classes junior year. A few kids even end up taking 5.5 or 6. That's just the way the system is set up.

The main 4 are LA/SS/Sci/Math:

10th Honors LA => 11th AP LA
10th AP World => 11th AP US

Many HCC kids now take Honors Chem as freshmen, which opens a range of follow-on courses for sophomore/junior/senior years, all AP: AP Bio/Chem/EnvSci/Physics.

10th is typically either pre-calc or AB calc, so => 11th AP Calc AB or BC

11th is typically where AP Foreign Language lands.

Music isn't AP, but if you're not in orchestra or band, does this mean you won't be allowed to take a course like AP Computer Science? If so, that class will end up being empty, because the other courses are more or less expected by colleges due to each subject's natural sequence.

So, a very unsurprising junior year would be:
AP Math,
AP Sci,
AP Lang, and

5 AP courses. How would you force a student to strip away one (or two!) of those classes? Let alone if they don't play an instrument and would like to take AP CS or AP Macro or any other mildly challenging class?!

More than anything else, I want to understand the motivation behind this change without having to guess or make wild assumptions.

Benjamin Leis said...

Reminder: It's my firm policy that there will be no teachers named or witch hunts on this blog. Every parent is always free to contact a teacher or principal on behalf of their own child and you can certainly advise them to do so but that's the line.

Also bear in mind this is early, and we still have an incomplete set of 2nd and 3rd hand information. If it weren't open enrollment season I would have delayed a little longer until I had more data before opening this up.

Anonymous said...

Would someone be willing to report back on the information shared at the Wed 2/15 mtg on AP class load?

I'm not able to attend but since the 2017 course registration is due on the 17th, this doesn't allow much time to consider whatever info is shared. It seems a limit on AP courses could impact the choices 9th graders are currently making.

9th GHS parent

Anonymous said...


"The College Board earns over half of all its revenues from the courses—and, in an uncertain environment, students keep being suckered."

Having gone through high school over 25 years ago ( I did three AP classes then ), I have been amazed by the growth of AP courses available and also skeptical as well...


Anonymous said...

On the other hand, AP classes allowed my child to earn more than a year of college credit before he graduated from high school. This will save us quite a bit of money for a relatively small investment.

WS Mom

Anonymous said...

@ Rat Race, I agree that AP classes aren't the be-all and end-all, but they seem to have become one of the only ways to ensure adequate academic challenge for kids who need it. GE classes don't cut it, nor do honor-for-all classes. Some kids need more challenge, and in the absence of strong, rigorous non-AP classes, AP and IB classes are the best we can hope for at this time.

Re: the Garfield meeting on how challenging the junior year is, I wonder if they will plan to limit access to AP classes in 10th grade, too. My student was planning to take 4 AP classes in 10th grade: AP World, AP Calculus, an AP science, and AP Spanish (since coming from language immersion program). They would want at least 5 the following year--they'd be done with Spanish, but would add in AP language arts and at least AP-level elective.

Now that I think about it more, how could they do this on a 3x5 schedule, too?

seeking challenge

Anonymous said...

My kid brought home a "Contract for Appealing 3 AP Course Limit" which we need to sign saying the student understands the level of challenge involved and that they cannot change their mind and switch out of any AP courses either at the start of the year or second semester.

It says: "At Garfield, we are committed to supporting and encouraging each student's academic, emotion and social health. In order to best anticipate and support our students' emotional health, starting with the 2017-18 school year, Garfield is requesting students limit their AP course load to three (3) per year. For students and families who choose to take more than three AP courses, Garfield now requires the below contract."


Anonymous said...

I would add the cap isn't just for junior year. It's for all years.

-- Pretty Frustrated

Anonymous said...

If they want to suggest self limiting AP course loads, that's one thing, but "Contract for Appealing 3 AP Course Limit?" Not okay. I'd write board members over this. SPS considers access to AP courses a service for HC. The inability to switch out of an AP course is equally concerning. If a student is truly struggling, are they just saying, "tough?" I understand the desire to limit schedule changes and have students think carefully about class selection, but this policy is lousy. Are other students allowed to drop out of a AP course, just not those taking more than 3 AP courses?

Anonymous said...

This is clearly meant to be punitive. You cannot, with a straight face, say "at Garfield, we are committed to supporting and encouraging each student's academic, emotion (sic) and social health" and that "in order to best anticipate and support our students' emotional health" they need to complete a contract to take more than 3 AP classes but they cannot change their mind and switch out of any AP courses either at the start of the year or second semester.

They are trying to reduce the numbers by scaring people away, and then they are essentially saying "screw you" to any kids who do get in over their heads. "You thought you were so smart? Ha! Deal with it!"


Anonymous said...

In additional frustration, GHS student 2017 course selection sheet is due on Friday, yet the 2017-18 course catalog has not been posted on the website nor handed out to students.
My rising 9th grader is wanting to look at the science options as it sounds like oceanography is no longer the UW in HS program. But without the course catalog, there is no way to know! It is due in 5 days.
Why does this all have such an adversarial feeling to it, isn't it everyone's job & goal to provide education?
Sigh, just venting a bit.

9th GHS parent

Anonymous said...

?!?! What high school does course selection in Feb? And they're eliminating oceanography?

worser and worser

Anonymous said...

My daughter is a junior at Garfield this year and I'm a Garfield alum.

She told me that several of her friends had switched AP English at the semester to honors English. This was because the AP English class combined with the AP Science class, plus "everything else" was just more work than expected.

The change at the semester was so expected that the teacher, who has been teaching AP English for a long time, had broken the syllabus into two sections because he knew that every year students switch both in and out of AP classes at the semester break. Daughter reported that there were both new kids and departed friends in her AP English class, while there were no changes in the math or science classes.

I suspect that with the capacity problems at Garfield, they want to end this semester swap. But it seems unnecessarily challenging to get a straight answer.

- bulldog!

Anonymous said...

Roosevelt also begins registration this week. This includes some time for counselors to meet with Freshman/Sophomore/Junior students to talk about graduation requirements and college prep so that kids can make sure they are planning accordingly. I know it sounds early, but I believe that for most kids their schedules are pretty well planned out since their freshman year. As in, they will follow a predictable math/science pathway. The only decisions would be if/which AP History and English classes, UW in the Classroom classes and other electives they want. Kids can always change schedules at the beginning of the school year if things change for some reason. Imagine a bunch of kids choosing a Biotech, Technology, Japanese class or UW in the classroom course that needs extra teacher qualifications and that would necessitate an extra session. It could take some time to get teachers hired and/or trained and this may be why kids at some schools don't get language or elective choices that they preference. It is a benefit if the time is used to best staff for the next year.

Roosevelt/JAMS family

SusanH said...

I'm attaching a link to the notes from a Garfield PTSA meeting from last month. I wasn't at the meeting, but it looks like each department outlined the course progressions and offerings, and the course slides are titled 2017-2018, so I suppose that's information you can use for next year.

In the science section, it says the following about the Oceanography (now called Marine Science):

Marine Science: This class no longer earns UW credit because of inconsistencies in teaching it at high schools (not necessarily at Garfield). This course has a long tradition here. Marine Science is not an AP course, it is a broad option covering earth and space science, which other classes don't cover.


Benjamin Leis said...

Thanks for adding that link. I added excerpt on the top. I'm not at Garfield so I can't gauge the atmosphere. Does the idea that the cohort is creating an overly stressful environment ring true to people?

I would tend to think that "toxic" competitiveness if present is a bit deeper than that and occurs at the family level. In other words, its the expectation of us as parents and the college admissions process that is driving things rather than kids comparing themselves to their peers. So requesting that parent's provide a waiver to take more than 3 classes wouldn't really solve the issue.

Anonymous said...

@ Ben, is the link between the toxic environment and the cohort yours, or was that comment based on something else? AP classes aren't only open to HC students, so I'm curious as to why it's seen as a cohort issue.


Anonymous said...

I went to school a long time ago and no AP courses at my high school back then in another state. Questions for those familiar with Seattle schools and AP classes.
1. What is a "typical" amount of AP courses an HCC student (who is solid academically straight A in middle) takes each year at Garfield? "Typical" total amount of AP courses taken during 4 years? (3 AP each year = 9AP ?)
2. When do they begin taking AP courses, is it 10th or 11th grade?
3. What is the typical amount of AP courses an HCC student might be able to feasibly take at Ballard? My limited understanding is that Ballard might not have as many AP sections as Garfield to allow HCC pathway students to take as many courses.

-Middle school parent

Benjamin Leis said...

@Unclear - Sorry for spreading confusion. I don't generally aim to be that provocative. I'm directly quoting the Garfield PTSA notes. I've put the excerpt up top.

I'm genuinely curious at this point what parents on the ground think.

z said...

Benjamin asks an interesting question. As someone with 2 Garfield kids, I can give some perspective from a boots on the ground view.

You're kind of on the right track with some of the real issues being external, i.e. parental expectations and college admissions. Those drive a lot of kids and families toward AP courses. Nothing our high schools do will change the fact that competitive colleges want to see kids taking the hardest classes available at a given school. If you want to go to a competitive college and your high school offers AP courses you'd better be taking them. You can't just say "I Protest this situation!" and skip the AP courses without harming your real-world opportunities. Sadly, I don't see an easy solution to this ever-escalating problem.

As for the kids themselves, as you can easily imagine, there are a wide range of motivations. Some parents do indeed pressure the kids, some kids are hugely self-motivated and will take the all of the most challenging courses they can simply because they crave the challenge, many others don't care that much but are on a "track" since middle school that sets them up for AP classes just because it makes sense. Typical high school HCC math pathway for example, Alg2, PreCalc, AP Calc AB, AP Calc BC. Could they sign up for non-AP math? Sure, but it doesn't make much sense, and by definition they're very capable kids. HCC kids come into high school with 2 add'l years of science under their belt, so most of them are on track to take AP science courses starting sophomore year. It's just the natural sequence. Unless you stop taking your world language sequence, it hits AP in junior year.

Back to the issue at hand: Is there "toxically competitive" pressure from the cohort that pushes students to take harder classes than they should be taking? I'd say this is a resounding NO. At least not in the way they are describing. There is some pressure, but it's far more benign than that. Quite simply, most kids want to take classes with their friends. If all of your friends are taking AP World, why would you opt to take the Honors or Regular class? It's simple human nature. There's nothing class-ist, or racist, or anything-ist about it, just wanting to be with your friends.

The real question is, will this waiver-signing process be helpful? And helpful with what exactly? What is the problem the school is trying to solve?

Frankly, I doubt they've thought very deeply about this, because it wouldn't be thrown out at the last minute, and in such a strange fashion, if they had. I'm sure they see some kids every year that are stressed and struggling with their class load, and as with the Honors for All/None situation they feel like they can't stand by and ignore an uncomfortable situation. But instead of engaging the community and working together toward better solutions in a public and transparent way, they huddle in their offices and make poor, insular decisions. Unfortunately, this is not unique to Garfield by any means, SPS does this all the time, and many students suffer the consequences.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ben. I see that the toxic comment came from the PTSA notes. It's interesting that the assumption is that it's the "HCC" students, when in reality AP classes are open to all. Do they have data indicating it's an HC-specific issue? (And to any Garfield PTSA reps reading this, it's no longer "HCC" in high school...)

I also find it ironic that there's so much concern for the "toxic" environment created when "HCC students feel peer pressure from cohort to take AP classes," when the move to "honors for all" was apparently to help push more students to eventually take more AP classes. Am I understanding it correctly that they want lower performing students to take MORE AP classes, but higher performing students to take fewer AP courses?


SusanH said...

z: Thank you so much for your thoughts and experiences. All makes sense. I just have a 9th grader, so I can't really comment on the atmosphere of competitiveness at the school, but my son is planning to take AP World and AP Chemistry next year, simply because that's the logical progression of classes, and what his friends are taking.

Unclear: Your comment made me laugh out loud! ("Am I understanding it correctly that they want lower performing students to take MORE AP classes, but higher performing students to take fewer AP courses?") . Yep, that sure does sound like what they want!

Anonymous said...

z's experience is similar to ours. Our kids don't feel the environment is "toxic." But then they are generally self-motivated learners and more likely to be frustrated by a too-easy class than a too-hard class.

I noticed that the Garfield PTSA notes from the January meeting state that "about 75% of 11th graders and 70% of 12th graders take the AP [Language Arts] class." So it seems that this is not just about the HCC kids.

As others have observed, for an HCC kid, their logical progression in math and science leads them to AP classes in both of those subjects, sometimes as early as 10th grade. If they did reasonably well in AP World History, isn't it fair to assume they would do similarly well in AP US History? And assuming they take those three AP classes, should they not take AP LA, even though only 25-30% of kids are not taking AP LA, just because of this policy that administrators adopted without any advance community engagement? Similarly, if the next class in their world language progression is the AP class, should they just quit world language to avoid exceeding the recommended number of three AP classes?

One has to wonder if unclear hasn't hit the nail on the head.

I'm sure hoping the meeting on Wednesday night will explain whether the students who sign this silly "Contract for Appeal" (What the heck is that even supposed to mean; is it a contract, or is it an appeal to some decision? Those are very different things.) will be automatically allowed to move forward with their registration decisions or whether some administrator could reject that "appeal" (or is it a contract?) on the basis of some undisclosed criteria.

Also it sure would have been nice if they had clued in the counselors who were having meetings with the 10th graders. But the counselors had no idea this policy was coming down, as recently as Feb. 3.

Educators talk about the importance of building resilience in kids, but how does that happen if they aren't challenged? I would rather see the kids bring home a B in a challenging class than cake-walking in with an A in a class that doesn't challenge them.

Obviously every family needs to assess whether their kid would be stressed by taking more than three AP classes. But a lot of that analysis may depend on what else the kid is doing; are they involved in a lot of extracurriculars, or none? Are they facing other stresses in their life, such as divorce or recent death in the family, or are they secure and supported at home? How can a school administrator have any idea what is best for any particular kid? I can assure you that no teacher or administrator knows our kids as well as we parents do.

Also, has the school looked at other possible sources of the stress they report seeing? For example, are the AP teachers giving unclear assignments? Are they welcoming of student questions? Do they have fair and consistent grading? Do they provide assignments well in advance, so that kids who have a heavy workload or outside commitments can see what is coming and work ahead as needed? I know that the school addressed all of these issues in connection with Honors for All. I'd hope they make the same effort on AP classes before adopting a policy that leads to kids learning less and that possibly (probably) sets up students to be less likely to be admitted to the colleges they could otherwise get into.

- Bulldog Parent

Anonymous said...

The rationale for the contract (that the multi-AP class kids are too stressed) did not mention numbers of students who are experiencing stress or requesting transfers out of classes. For that reason the statement has to be considered anecdotal and not a reliable statement on which to base policy. The contract is clearly punitive.

Two years ago we toured Garfield and found the teachers (that we encountered) and the principal to be so unwelcoming toward the HCC pathway that we opted to go somewhere else. Any toxic atmosphere at GHS emanates from them not the kids. I find it despicable for the school administration to attack and blame the kids that way to cover up their own capacity and scheduling challenges.


Jams Parent said...

You know how ISP's sometimes engage in "bandwidth throttling" by intentionally slowing down Internet service? That's what this is. Limiting the number of AP classes high school students are allowed to take is education throttling. As if there were a limited supply of learning available in the world. We should demand that SPS stop education throttling. SPS should stop discriminating against students who want to learn a lot. Education consumption should not be rationed or throttled. It should be encouraged and mentored.

Anonymous said...

At the AP information session at Garfield last night, there were no administrators in attendance. The teachers made clear at the outset that they were not consulted about the recently announced AP limit, and that any questions about it should be directed to the administration. We know that counselors were not consulted or even aware of the policy, since as late as Feb. 3 a counselor who was asked about this said they had not heard anything about it. And the parents were not consulted or even given any clear guidance about how this will actually work. It definitely raises questions about how much input school administrators had, or cared to have, about this significant change.

It was generous of the teachers, counselors, school psychologist, and students who came to the AP information session to devote their time to helping parents and students understand the realities of what it means to take a heavy AP load. These people are emblematic of what is great about GHS.

The sudden changes of administrative policy with no community, teacher, student, or parent input (or frankly even clear communication of what the policy is) are emblematic what is not great at GHS.

- Bulldog Parent

Anonymous said...

You'd think that if the policy change were truly implemented to support student emotional health, as claimed, the counselors would have been the key drivers, no?

NESeattleMom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

If this thread is still active, where in the schedule would a student on a typical HCC path having taken immersion full year Spanish 3 in middle ready for 2 or 3 Spanish in high school, accelerated 2 years math/science, be able to take Orchestra at Garfield? Would they be able to waive PE/Health/etc if play an after school sport to take Orchestra this period? Where can it fit?

Lynn said...

Garfield allows a student to waive PE if they take a full load of classes at Garfield every semester. (Running Start courses or TA periods don't count and the waiver won't be allowed.)

See page five of the registration guide and the waiver request form.

The first waiver isn't approved until the second semester of junior year. Make sure you keep track of the due date for the form - there is no flexibility on that.

Health cannot be waived but they'll give credit for taking it online. Sign up for this through the counseling office. If your student doesn't take four years of a world language in high school they may also have room for health or PE in their schedule their junior or senior year.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Lynn. Would you also know if Ballard would be similar to Garfield (as far as PE waiver allowed if taking full load) so can take Orchestra? Theoretically student would not take 4 years of World Language as would come in likely at Spanish 3 level (took Spanish grades 6-8 immersion full year at HIMS in middle) and would be finished after AP Spanish.

NESeattleMom said...

There is also a test to take for PE cognitive portion at GHS. For non-academic PE waiver for directed athletics outside of school, it is 80 hr per semester. For my kid's 17 week dance session per semester it would require 5 hr per week.

Anonymous said...

K -
Your student could very well be ready for Spanish 4 or AP as a 9th grader. I know kids who took the third year of Spanish at HIMS and went to either Spanish 4 or AP at Garfield, placed based on their STAMP test results. Our experience has been that even with just two years at HIMS, the students were ready for at least Spanish 3 in 9th grade. My advice is to register your student for Spanish 4 at minimum.

Right now there is no issue taking orchestra or band and taking a world language plus the four core classes. If we move to a 3x5 schedule, I don't see how kids will be able to do both language and music. It's one of the huge disadvantages of that proposal, in my opinion. I'm not sure the music supporters have realized the effect it could have on the music programs.

As for the PE cognitive test mentioned above, one counselor explained that for those who do not have room in their schedule for PE (due to full academic load), they give the student a review packet in their senior year, then the kids take the test, and everybody passes.

- Bulldog Parent