Why can’t 9th/10th graders take APs at ISSH?

The International School of Sacred Heart does not allow students to take AP courses until grades 11 and 12. Various speculations have risen about the reasoning behind this choice. The speculations range from, “ISSH is too small for all students to enrol in AP courses” to, “14 and 15 year olds are just too immature.”

Currently, ISSH offers 18 AP courses instead of 20, which is how many ASIJ offers. To put things in perspective, while ASIJ has a high school student population of 520, ISSH has only 156 students.

So why doesn’t ISSH offer AP courses for grade 10 students? This rule is not arbitrary, and multiple considerations have been factored into this decision.

Before we examine the speculations, we must understand methodology of the ISSH curriculum. To enrol in an AP class, there is a step-by-step process to undergo. The high school students start collecting credits from 9th grade. In subjects like Social Studies and Science, only two credits are mandatory for high school students to fulfil graduation requirements. Subsequent to receiving those two required subject credits, students can then  self-select their Social Studies and Science courses. Thus, students that have been in ISSH since 9th grade, will not need to worry about gathering credits after 10th grade, and can focus on specialising.

According to Ms. Saso, Economics teacher and schedule coordinator, “It would be difficult to set up a schedule whereby, for example, a few 10th grade students were taking a particular AP course.” Sacred Heart’s population of faculty members and students is small; ISSH does consequently lack the option to offer all high schoolers the AP courses they might want. “The only way would be to bring all 10th grade students into the same system of electives as 11th and 12th graders. However, this would mean that they could no longer benefit from studying the full range of science and social science subjects in high school. ISSH curriculum builds a strong pre-AP foundation in grades 9 and 10.

“With a successful AP Euro, or any other AP course, is that there is a body of skill and content the students need to be exposed to,” said Mr. Baker, 10th grade Social Studies, AP European History, and AP United States history teacher.

This is the second reason: a firm foundation of core knowledge is interrelated to a system of restricting 9th and 10th grade class choices. Mr. Baker said, “What helps the AP students and AP students in other classes, is that they come in with a core body of knowledge and experience. Therefore in AP classes, we can go much faster, and into more depth in certain topics.” When students have built a strong foundation, they are ready to specialise. This is the root idea of ISSH’s unique scheduling.

The intellectual and emotional maturity of 9th and 10th graders is another reason for delaying enrolment into AP courses. Emotional maturity strengthens the ability to handle higher level classes and heavier workloads without acute stress. “Grade 9 and 10 is just not the time to take AP courses, because students are still figuring what subjects they are interested in,” said Ms. Braun, the AP coordinator and guidance counsellor.

The last reason this system is employed is because ISSH prioritises a high rate of success on AP exams. Ms. Young, the high school principal said, “Take an AP exam in 9th grade? Of course, you can do it, but we don’t want our girls just to do it, we want them to be successful.”

According to the AP summary scores provided by College Board from 2010 to 2014, the total percentage of AP students with a score of 3 or higher at ISSH is much higher than the global and Japanese average. While the global percentage in this category is 60% to 61%, ISSH scores around 91% to 97% over the span of four years. “You can see why we think our system works; it prepares our girls for success,” said Ms. Young.

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Thus, restricting participation in AP classes in grades 9 and 10 paves a firm and successful educational bridge towards a college curriculum.

So what if a really strong grade 10 student wants to take a certain course she is really interested in? In response to this question Ms. Braun said, “If students are really interested in a certain subject they can absolutely study it outside of school. But we don’t allow them to take AP tests until they are in 11th grade, unless there are special circumstances. And that has to be cleared through me.”