Mission-Driven Innovation: Redesigning AP Courses

From the Summer 2017 Issue of "The Good" Magazine
By Carolyn LaGaly, High School Principal
The Good - Summer 2017 IssueIn a community of inquiry, innovations in teaching and learning are always underway and reflected in changes both big and small. Indeed, our commitment to provide the best program for students compels change when we feel that a current offering falls short in some way. Thus, in an exciting and dramatic new initiative, the high school has committed to eliminating roughly half of the currently offered 25 Advanced Placement courses and replacing them with Campbell Hall Advanced Inquiry (CHAI) classes beginning in the fall of 2018.

Inspired by the January 2016 publication of Turning the Tide by the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common Project, Campbell Hall’s Joint Curriculum Council considered head-on an issue that had been brewing throughout the school’s multi-year strategic planning conversations: whether the College Board’s AP classes follow a community of inquiry model or are instead curiosity-dulling marches through test-driven, standardized curricula.

Following the February 2016 Joint Curriculum Council meeting, department chairs met with their departments for discussions of their AP discipline-specific courses, and then the headmaster and the high school principal met with chairs individually to review their AP courses and evaluate them against the community of inquiry model. The result was mutual agreement that many AP courses did not serve the school’s mission, and the beginning of a process to replace those that did not with our own advanced courses began—courses that will cover roughly the same subject areas as the APs in question but allow for more discussion and inquiry, and prioritize engagement, depth, and quality over quantity.

As we continued to inquire into and plan this curricular innovation, a CHAI Criteria Committee, chaired by the secondary principals, met throughout the 2016-17 school year. They researched University of California, College Board, International Baccalaureate, 21st Century Learning, and other standards in order to develop a set of criteria for the new CHAI classes that best reflect our goals for these college-level courses. In the spring of 2017, the committee arrived at a CHAI program description and set of criteria that were then reviewed by academic departments and the Secondary Educational Policy and Review Committee.

Concurrently, a CHAI College Impact Committee, chaired by the high school principal and college counseling director, met throughout the 2016-17 school year to determine the impact of this change on our students in their college application and registration process and to ensure that our students would not be at any disadvantage. Conversations occurred with peer schools who had already moved away from some or all of their APs as well as private and public colleges and universities. Colleagues at fellow high schools and colleges agreed that universities trust the quality of the advanced curricula that a school like ours develops and that they are in fact eager to see students engage in unique programs like the CHAI initiative. As always, they reminded us, communication with colleges is the key to their understanding our rich and varied program. Even with this overwhelmingly positive news, a single University of California policy remains clear: as anticipated, once students matriculate to the UC, they will not earn college credit for courses without an AP or IB designation. 

Communications plans are already underway and, moving forward, department chairs will continue to prioritize their courses for redesign; beginning next spring, three to four new CHAI courses will be offered each year with full implementation of the initiative accomplished over the next several years. Four new CHAI classes have been submitted already to the University of California for honors-designation approval, ready for marketing and course selection in the 2017-18 school year, and in place for implementation by the fall of 2018. 

Mission-driven innovation and managed change are crucial to our continued growth as a school that always strives for excellence. As we prepare to move boldly into the future with the CHAI program, we are excited to provide our students with this unique opportunity to embark on a journey of intellectual discovery.

This article first appeared in Summer 2017 Issue of The Good, Volume 5.
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Campbell Hall is an independent, Episcopal, K-12 all gender day school. We are a community of inquiry committed to academic excellence and to the nurturing of decent, loving, and responsible human beings.
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