Communications about moving beyond the AP

Letter from Suzanne Fogarty | Letter from Upper School Director and Director of College Counseling

Letter from Suzanne Fogarty

Feb. 4, 2016

Friends,

I’m writing to share exciting news with you about our Upper School curriculum. Lincoln administrators and faculty have thought long and hard about what it means to be a school that offers rigorous, healthy and balanced courses.

As an independent school, independent being the key word, we have the privilege and important freedom to develop courses that best reflect the needs of our students, emphasizing depth over breadth, interdisciplinary studies, additional options in computer science and engineering, as well as research opportunities in the humanities and sciences.

After more than a year’s worth of exploration and consultation, we have determined that the best way to reach these important academic goals is to move beyond the confines of the Advanced Placement curriculum. Beginning in the fall of 2017, we will join the growing ranks of excellent independent schools in the country who have done the same, including Andover, Concord Academy, Brearley, Lawrenceville and many others.

On Monday, you will receive letters and materials from Head of Upper School Peter Brooks and Director of College Counseling Beth Ellis that outline how Lincoln is positioning our students for the next level of success. They will share the process that has led us to this decision, with enthusiastic testimonials from college admission officers and experts in the field, such as Denise Clark Pope, professor of education at Stanford University and author of Overloaded and Underprepared.

As parents, a major consideration will be the effect such a move will have on Lincoln students’ college options. We are confident that your daughters will have the same excellent choices as we move forward; in fact, a more creative and robust curriculum will enhance their applications.

Just recently, the Harvard School of Education directed a coalition of prominent school leaders in publishing a report called Turning the Tide, which emphasizes depth over breadth rather than a test-centered focus to learning; it also emphasizes balance in course load and extracurriculars. You may have read about it in Frank Bruni’s New York Times column on Jan. 19.

The most selective institutions are looking for students who are distinctive in the applicant pool, and, the truth is, having AP courses on one’s transcript is no longer distinctive. In ways they didn’t have to 15 to 20 years ago, admission officers are forced to look beyond the AP designation for evidence of intellectual curiosity and a genuine love of learning. While the AP program is not necessarily incompatible with these qualities, we believe there are better ways to foster them. The breakneck pace that test preparation necessitates means that depth is often sacrificed, and many thought-provoking questions that derive from students’ curiosity have to be tabled. Also, it’s important to note that AP scores are not a required part of the admission process at any college (though Lincoln students will still be taking the SAT, ACT, and/or subject tests).

It turns out colleges want what we want: students who are excited and self-motivated and who will naturally seek out the amazing opportunities that Lincoln offers in preparation for their undergraduate years.

In next week’s mailing, we will include research on strong and innovative curricula. You will also receive information about the advanced and innovative courses that will replace the APs. We will host meetings on the evening of Feb. 18 and the morning of March 2 to share these exciting changes and to elaborate on the ways we are positioning Lincoln and its students for the future.

Best,

Suzanne Fogarty
Head of School

Letter from Upper School Director and Director of College Counseling

Feb. 8, 2016

Dear Lincoln Families,

As you have heard from Suzanne Fogarty in her recent letter to the community, Lincoln will be moving beyond the AP Curricula in the fall of 2017. This change aligns with our mission as an independent, Quaker school for girls that’s globally focused and forward-thinking—and will best prepare our students for the 21st-century world. All members of Lincoln’s faculty and staff have weighed in on this discussion, and we are pleased to proceed with widespread support and enthusiasm for this exciting change.

The 2016-2017 academic year will be the last time we offer AP classes, which will allow us to reclaim control over both our curriculum and schedule. Without being beholden to the May AP testing schedule and the review period that precedes it, we will gain six weeks of class time. This additional time, coupled with restructured advanced classes, will allow us to prioritize depth over breadth in all of our courses. Moreover, we will have the flexibility to focus on the curricular priorities that we have always been committed to pursuing: fostering critical and creative thinking skills, encouraging authentic collaboration, allowing students the opportunity to discover solutions to problems that do not have easy answers. The Harvard Graduate School of Education recently published Turning the Tide: Making Caring Common, which speaks to the importance of doing just that in order to foster genuine intellectual engagement. Much of what is discussed in the report really resonates with us as a Quaker school—it’s worth the read!

For context, it is important to note that the instructional strategies that AP curricula dictate were developed over 60 years ago. A school like ours is more capable of being nimble and keeping up with the changing landscape of education and the needs of our students than the College Board is; it is our responsibility to provide dynamic, interdisciplinary exploration in our classrooms, where students will synthesize information and analyze data critically in order to succeed as 21st-century learners. Furthermore, the AP label no longer holds the same weight as it did years ago, nor is it a distinguishing factor in the highly selective admissions process. Finally, AP scores are not a required part of the process. (Many of the most selective colleges have tightened their credit policies, while others have stopped awarding credits for AP work altogether.)

Last fall, Lincoln hosted 70-plus admission officers representing colleges and universities from across the country, and they were eager to learn more about our collaborations with Brown and RISD, as well as our India program. During their visits, we also discussed the possibility of our moving beyond the AP, and without exception, they confirmed that our students would not be at a disadvantage in the admission process. It’s important to note that our curricular conversation is not a new one for admission officers, as many fantastic schools (Concord Academy, Phillips Andover Academy, Dalton School—please refer to a more comprehensive list of schools in the FAQs section below) have already gone through this process. Colleges will simply want to know which classes are considered our most advanced, and we will clearly convey this information through in-person conversations and our Lincoln School Profile prior to the rollout of our new program in 2017.

We are privileged to have a dynamic faculty and the resources needed to be able to move forward with this programmatic change. Admission officers recognize this and are confident that we will continue to offer the kind of rigorous and engaging courses that they have come to expect from Lincoln. When asked for a comment on our move beyond the AP, James Miller, Dean of Admission at Brown University, had this to share:

“Every school should offer the curriculum that is most consistent with its community, its culture and its mission. There are more than 36,000 high schools in the United States alone, and there are 36,000 different curricula. Admissions offices are very accustomed to learning about the academic programs and opportunities available to students at their respective secondary institutions, and schools like Lincoln are practiced at describing and demonstrating the values, emphases and nuances of their academic programs. In the end, the best and most effective curricula—regardless of the prefixes attached to individual courses—are those that inspire and challenge faculty and students alike.”

We are indeed eager to build upon the strengths of our current program, while capitalizing on the opportunity to innovate across the curriculum and create even more dynamic advanced courses. In the sciences, we will redouble our focus on inquiry-based learning where mastery of hard science content is a paramount concern. We will implement new upper-level humanities classes that allow our students to choose from a broad range of electives, requiring them to think about topics from 360 degrees. We will expand our offerings in the world of STEAM, implementing new classes in computer science and engineering. We will explore possibilities for interdisciplinary learning through the development of courses that break down the barriers between academic disciplines and focus on the interconnected nature of knowledge in our world today.

Please feel free to reach out to Suzanne Fogarty, Beth Ellis or Peter Brooks with any and all questions. In addition, we invite you to attend one of our “Moving Beyond the AP” presentations that will be offered on the evening of Feb. 18 and the morning of March 2 to learn more about this exciting news. We are very much looking forward to engaging in a dialogue about Lincoln’s bright future with you.

All the best,

Peter Brooks
Upper School Director

Beth Ellis
Director of College Counseling


Frequently Asked Questions:

Why did Lincoln decide to make this change?

As an independent school, independent being the key word, we have the privilege and important freedom to develop courses that best reflect the needs of our students, emphasizing depth over breadth, interdisciplinary studies, additional options in computer science and engineering, as well as research opportunities in the humanities and sciences.

What schools have moved beyond the AP designation or have never used the AP curricula? See below for a sampling.

Massachusetts: Concord Academy, Beaver Country Day, Phillips Andover Academy; New Hampshire: Phillips Exeter Academy, St. Paul's School; New York: St. Anne’s, Dalton School, Fieldston School, Brearley School, Berkeley Carroll School, Packer-Collegiate, Calhoun, Trevor Day, Spence School; New Jersey: Lawrenceville School; Pennsylvania: Baldwin School, Haverford School, Westtown (also Quaker!); Maryland: Oldfields School; North Carolina: Carolina Friends; Tennessee: St. Andrew's Sewanee School; Minnesota: Providence Academy; Illinois: University of Illinois Laboratory School; Washington: University Preparatory Academy; California: Urban School of San Francisco, High Tech High, Marin Academy, Crossroads School

Will the absence of AP courses at Lincoln negatively impact my child’s chances in the college admissions process?

No. College admissions officers are assigned to read applications from various regions throughout the country and around the world; each regional reader is expected to be well versed in all aspects of the schools in their territories. When reading applications, admission officers are looking at the overall “aesthetic” of a transcript. This means that they evaluate a combination of the rigor of an applicant’s curriculum within the context of what is available at her high school and the grades earned in each class. Rather than rely solely upon course titles in their review, admission officers depend upon high schools to share what their most advanced classes are in the high-school profile. We are fortunate that our admissions readers know Lincoln well. As an independent school, we are accustomed to communicating the nuances of our curriculum to colleges, and our Director of College Counseling Beth Ellis will continue to do this throughout our transition beyond the AP.

How will Lincoln inform colleges about the changes to the curriculum?

Beth has already had conversations with our regional readers about the possibility of moving beyond the AP, and the discussions were extremely positive. Admission officers recognize that as an independent school, we have the freedom and responsibility to offer an academic program that stays true to Lincoln’s mission and inspires both our students and faculty. While it may be new to some in our community, our decision to move beyond the AP did not come as a surprise to our regional readers, as this is a national trend they have seen unfold over the last 15-plus years in the independent school world. As one admission officer put it, “Do you want to lead or follow?” Of course, Lincoln is proud to lead!

What about students hoping to use AP scores to place out of college courses or to graduate early?

Most Lincoln students do not take AP exams as a way to satisfy college course requirements. Many highly selective colleges and universities have tightened their credit policies, while others have ceased to award credits for AP work altogether. If students wish to place out of an introductory course—such as general science or introductory language—colleges have their own placement tests that are often administered during freshman orientation.

What rigorous courses will Lincoln offer in lieu of AP courses?

As noted in our letter, we will implement advanced courses across all academic departments in lieu of AP courses. In science, we will focus on providing further opportunities for inquiry-based learning, and we will implement new upper-level humanities classes that allow our students to choose from a broad range of electives. We will expand our offerings in the world of STEAM, implementing new classes in computer science and engineering. We will explore possibilities for interdisciplinary learning through the development of courses that break down the barriers between academic disciplines and focus on the interconnected nature of knowledge in our world today.

What do the experts say?

Scott Meiklejohn, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, Bowdoin College

“Bowdoin has applicants from about 3,400 different high schools this year. That number includes an amazing array of curricular choices, levels of rigor, grading scales, elective options and other features that each school believes is best for its students. Colleges aren’t looking for all high schools to follow a certain method; we respect the varied approaches to secondary education, and we admit plenty of students whose schools offer zero AP courses. I have no doubt that Lincoln will do a good job of articulating its new upper-level course offerings and that the young women of Lincoln will continue to have great offers of college admission.”

Ruby Bhattacharya, Assistant Dean of Admissions, Swarthmore College

“At Swarthmore, we review applications from schools from all over the world—all of which have very different curricular offerings; when looking at academic credentials, we look to see what opportunities the student’s school provides and to what extent the applicant has meaningfully taken advantage of the opportunities available to her. We take the time to identify the nuances of the curriculum at each applicant's school to better understand the student's context.”

Denise Clark Pope, Senior Lecturer, Stanford Graduate School of Education

“In schools that have replaced AP courses with their own advanced study curricula, teachers no longer have to ‘teach to the test’ and can focus more on critical-thinking skills and subject mastery—and the students get the extra benefit of taking a rigorous course without the excessive homework load that typically accompanies an AP curriculum. The result is a much saner, and often more rigorous and appropriately challenging course, that can more authentically prepare the students for college study.”

Turning the Tide: Making Caring Common, Report put out by Harvard Graduate School of Education

Press Release (includes comments from leaders in the field of education and deans of admissions from University of Michigan, MIT, Yale and Kenyon); Articles & Resources related to college admissions, achievement pressure and college access; Full Report







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