Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Thesis vs. Advanced Placement (AP)

Every year at this time, Bosque seniors, in their final academic rite of passage, defend their theses at the annual Senior Colloquium.  For two evenings this week, Wednesday, May 18 and Thursday, May 19, our 12th graders will share the research and writing they have done over the past year and justify their findings to an audience comprised of schoolmates, parents/guardians, teachers/staff, alumni, and members of the community.  More than just a chance to show off, Colloquium provides our seniors with the opportunity to impart their expertise and wisdom.  In some ways, Colloquium is also like an academic homecoming as we welcome back alumni and their families who come to hear what this year’s class has chosen to research, learn, and present.  

Year after year, Bosque alumni tell us that the thesis program prepared them for college in a manner that is vastly superior to what their college peers did while in high school.  They laugh when their freshmen classmates freak out over a long writing assignment or having to do substantive and substantial research.  Former Bobcats often brag that what they have to write in college in no way compares to the writing they did at Bosque, and they are amazed that their new friends had never encountered similar work during their high school years. Recognizing the value of student-driven learning, we introduce “thesis” type skills as soon as students arrive at Bosque.  For example, this year’s 6th graders were asked the question, "What problem would you like to solve?"  Students then performed research on their question, documented their findings, and then created a presentation which they shared with peers, teachers, and adults in the community.  

Similarly, we hear from people at the collegiate level that our alumni are exceedingly well-prepared for the kind of work they will encounter in college because they have done that level of research, writing, and speaking while in high school. Bosque graduates are truly “college ready” wherever they go.  

For this reason, at Bosque, we prefer the thesis program to the Advanced Placement program offered in many schools.  Simply put, we could not do both, and based on what we hear from alumni and college professors, our program is superior in preparing students for the rigors of college. This is not to say that our students don’t take AP tests—some do, and they do well. However, we have consciously decided not to have our curriculum determined by the College Board in New Jersey, that for years now has annually audited AP classes.

I was reminded of this as I read an article that was sent to me by a Bosque parent.  (I should also say here that my previous school in St. Louis had a very robust AP program, so I have seen the benefits and costs of it.)  As the article states, many colleges are opting not to give credit for the AP test; education evolves as society does, and more and more colleges are realizing that AP classes are simply not the same as college courses. In addition, taking an AP class does not necessarily guarantee acceptance into a select college or university.  

Selective schools want to see that prospective students have taken a challenging course load in their junior and senior years.  If the high school has AP classes, then students should be taking those courses; if the school does not, then the student should be taking whatever are the highest level courses in those subject areas.  Unfortunately, all too often, I have seen students take AP classes in areas in which they had no interest in order to be competitive in the college search; consequently, the students are miserable, sleep-deprived, and resentful as they grind their way through reams of names, dates, and facts. In contrast, the thesis program invites students to work out of their own deepest interests, increasing their engagement and joy in learning.  

At Bosque, as each senior works on her thesis, she has a primary reader—one of her classroom teachers—and a secondary reader—someone she has chosen to help formulate ideas, consider sources for research, and refine her paper and presentation. These conversations between students and their outside readers exemplify the kinds of discussions we hope our children will have with their professors in college; they are engaging, scholarly, and enlivening for both students and adults.  

It is in the grappling with academic concepts, formulating hypotheses, changing one’s mind when confronted with the newest research in the field, and communicating one’s findings in writing and in public speaking that Bosque students demonstrate a profound commitment to our core values of scholarship, community, and integrity.  There are few things more exciting and hope-inducing than watching our students on these Colloquium nights as they culminate their high school careers by sharing their intellectual passions, knowledge, and abilities with a greater audience.  If it sounds like I am proud of them, it’s because I am.