Following up on my AP articles, please allow me to relate the experience of one student that was very instructive.
After taking precalculus during their sophomore year, I recommended this student take AP Statistics the following year because that class was more aligned with their longer term career interests. This advice was not taken for a reason that was hard to argue against as I will explain below.
After precalculus, Aragon offers three main math options:
- Finite Math at the lower end which is a mixture of rather unrelated topics. Some topics are practical, like loan amortization, but others are completely abstract, like symbolic logic, and there does not seem to be a real unifying thread to the topics included in this class.
- AP Calculus – the better students tend to skip directly from precalculus to BC which, as I have written in my AP advice article, is not a smart step except for the *very * top students who want to take multivariable calculus in their following year of high school. Advancing to Calculus AB is a much more logical choice as BC is supposed to be second semester college calculus. BC students have to rush through the AB material in about 2.5 months at the beginning of the year. It is virtually inevitable that they will need outside help to do so, and I usually find that my students who take the courses in order will understand the material much better and get higher AP exam scores.
- AP Statistics – this is a much more practical math class which can be useful to biologists, budding doctors, and other careers that use statistical data. The main drawback of this class is that, at the high school level, most of the statistical formulas and methods can not be given more than “handwaving” justifications, so the class has a tendency to require memorization of formulas and the preconditions for using particular statistical methods which is a bit unusual for a math class. Quite often students that needed tutoring in precalculus do not require any outside assistance with AP Statistics.
The problem that the student above had with my statistics recommendation is that, if they took “AP Stats” their junior year, they would be out of step to go back and take Calculus AB their senior year, being now a whole year removed from taking precalculus. They would have no other option than to take Finite Math which had no appeal to them and would also not be viewed with great esteem by selective colleges. The student’s only reasonable option was thus to continue into Calculus AB after precalculus.
After pondering this problem, I contacted Adam Jacobs last fall, one of the math co-chairs at Aragon, and suggested another option.
I believe that Aragon should offer a non-AP calculus class to fill this gap. This school year Aragon purchased new calculus textbooks which could also be used for a non-AP class, so it would not require additional expenditures. I would not be surprised if the offering of such a class would lead to many students, who do not intend to pursue the physical sciences or math in college, opting to take non-AP calculus instead of Calculus AB junior year. They could then take AP Stats senior year.
The non-AP calculus class would be able to follow a schedule set by the teacher who could teach to the students’ abilities instead of cramming for the trick-filled AP exam.
It would also raise the school’s AP pass rate because it would give students who are not really eager to tackle the AP Calculus exam another calculus choice. That choice would also look much better on their transcripts than taking Finite Math or struggling through AP Calculus with a lower grade.
I would not be surprised if adding non-AP Calculus did not really impact the overall teaching load, but instead primarily reapportioned the current calculus classes. Clearly, though, this is a question for the math department to resolve.
Mr. Jacobs said that he would raise the idea to the math department, but I don’t believe it ever went anywhere unfortunately.
If you have children who might like this idea, you might want to speak up and let the school know of your interest. It is probably too late to impact next year, but there is always hope for the future…