High School Report Card
SATs, RaMPs, PhDs... We give you all the stats, info, and explanation you need to evaluate your local high school.
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“We always had AP calculus,” reports Mamaroneck High teacher Linda Sherwood. “Now we’ve added regular calculus and college math Level One so kids can take a more advanced class without having the added pressure of the May 8 deadline to take the AP exam. The teachers are more connected to what colleges are doing. Instead of taking AP English, you can take college writing and get three credits from Iona. You can take sociology and get three credits from Syracuse.”
Comparing schools using this criterion is particularly dangerous, NHSC Director Harris warns, who observes, “If you use the number of different electives offered, the small school is going to get creamed.”
The College Board provides 37 AP courses—and standardized exams—covering 22 subjects. The lesson plan for each course leaves some flexibility for the teacher, but mostly it is aimed at helping the student pass a test in the spring that may—or may not, depending on the college he or she chooses—get the student some extra college credit.
Last year, Scarsdale opted to phase out the AP brand in favor of a locally grown version, the Advanced Topics Program, giving teachers and students more flexibility, the school says, and, hopefully, a better chance to actually explore a subject in more depth. “When Advanced Placement came along in the fifties, Scarsdale was at the forefront,” says Scarsdale High Principal John Klemme. “That tradition has been sustained in our movement toward the Advanced Topics program. Teachers have been discontent for a while about teaching to the AP test. This has liberated teachers to not be consumed by the test.”
Last year (2007-08) was the first year that taking AP tests was optional for Scarsdale students. “It made sense to give kids a choice depending on whether the exam score was going to be useful to them,” Klemme says. “We like to think it reduced the stress from having to take five exams versus two.”
“We are on a constant mission to help kids understand that there is meaning in this moment and this experience,” Klemme continues. “That’s somewhat counter-cultural; the pressures to go to the best college you can get into are intense.
The decision to drop teaching AP courses was widely opposed by Scarsdale parents, who feared that it would disadvantage their children when applying to college. But Barbara Leifer-Sarullo, director of Counseling at Scarsdale, says the parents had nothing to fear. “We communicated with about one hundred forty schools, who said that as long as the transcript indicates that the course is the most rigorous course offered, that’s all they were interested in.” The high number of counselors at Scarsdale and the intensity they bring to relations with top colleges makes this kind of decision-making possible.
The International Baccalaureate (IB) program offered by Dobbs Ferry and Yonkers High School is similar to the AP program—it, too, was created by an outside organization—but unlike AP courses are sometimes interrelated and often span more than one year. “We want every child to be challenged by college level courses,” says Yonkers High Principal Ralph Vigliotti. “We have some very difficult courses like IB physics and IB biology. IB English is a two-year program, as is History of the Americas. We also added courses like IB psychology, film, anthropology, environmental systems. Students can tackle courses that are fair and reasonable” in addition to the hardcore academic subjects.
More than 85 percent of the students at Yonkers High take at least two IB courses over their last two years. About one in four students take more, striving for an IB Diploma, which requires six IB courses, a 4,000-word research paper, and 150 hours spent in creativity, action, and service to the community. They take a course in each of the major areas, science, math, history, foreign language, English, and an elective. Last year, 33 Yonkers High students received IB diplomas. “We provide IB-targeted instruction after school and Saturdays,” Vigliotti reports. “It makes all the difference. If you come here on Saturday as the exam date approaches, it looks like a sixth school day.”
Honor Roll: Outstanding Programs
Members of Ossining High’s three-year Science Research Program with teachers Angelo Piccirillo and Valerie Holmes.
Ossining Science Stars
A Nobel Prize seems to be about the only thing that students in the Science Research Program at Ossining High haven’t won. That’s probably only a matter of time, though, considering the number of other national and international awards the young scientists in the three-year program have put on their trophy shelves. Just last year, senior Jessica Palmer landed a $50,000 college scholarship for taking first-place honors in the Young Epidemiology Scholars (YES) Competition, one of the nation’s most prestigious and influential high school science competitions.