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The Campanile

Admin, teachers ought to refine process for skipping prerequisites should be refined

With Palo Alto’s increasingly fast-paced nature, more kids are spending time outside of school honing in on their passions and specializing in various skills. As a result, many students find that, by the time they enter high school, they’ve achieved an advanced proficiency in a certain field through their extracurricular studies and activities.

When these students enter high school, they are eager to continue developing their skill at the high level they have worked hard to reach. However, certain advanced courses such as Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science and AP Studio Art have prerequisites — classes students are required to take before enrolling in a more advanced course.

Students who have gained extensive knowledge of a subject before taking a prerequisite class are sometimes able to skip the prerequisite, given the permission of the teacher of the higher course. However, the process of skipping a prerequisite is currently unstructured and subjective.

In order to ensure all students are able to enroll in classes that match their skill levels and maximize their learning potential, The Campanile thinks administrators and teachers should collaborate to create a streamlined process for skipping prerequisites.

According to Assistant Principal Katya Villalobos, who oversees academics and guidance, the current process begins with the student getting permission, in the form of a signature, from the teacher of the course the student wishes to enroll in. After obtaining the teacher’s signature, a student can go to the guidance department and request the schedule change without any discussion about their preparation to skip the prerequisite.

Villalobos said whether or not the teacher decides to approve the request is entirely up to them — typically, the teacher will ask the student to demonstrate their experience and tell the teacher what curriculum content they have covered in the past.

However, this is not always the case. According to senior Daniel Jin, he was able to skip a year-long prerequisite and go straight to the AP course without demonstrating any knowledge to the teacher. Jin said he simply spoke to the teacher, who quickly signed the required form.

On the other hand, art teacher Kate McKenzie has a set procedure for approving students who want to skip the Art Spectrum prerequisite to get into her advanced drawing and painting classes. McKenzie said she said she asks students to compile a portfolio and checks that it displays an understanding of the principals from Art Spectrum.

An assessment like this, which thoroughly checks a student’s understanding and skill, for each class would ensure all teachers have the same expectations for allowing students to opt out of prerequisites, as opposed to a subjective process.

In addition, a more structured process would eliminate bias against younger students — according to McKenzie, she sometimes factors age into her decision about whether or not to approve a class skip. The Campanile understands that this bias gives upperclassmen more leeway with their schedules, as they have less time to take the prerequisite in question before graduation.

However, underclassmen have the same number of slots in their four-year plan, and enrolling in courses that teach them material they’ve already mastered still presents the same downsides — a lack of challenging instruction and a suboptimal utilization of time.

McKenzie also echoed Villalobos’ statement about administrators’ hands-off approach to the prerequisite-skipping process, adding that the sometimes students who have neither taken the prerequisite nor gained approval to skip it will appear on the roster for higher classes. McKenzie said she looks through the rosters before the school year and removes these names herself.

In order to standardize the system for skipping prerequisites and ensure all students are adhering to it, The Campanile encourages administrators to communicate with teachers and create a specific process for both administrators and teachers to approve a class skip. This would also entail administrators creating a minimum criteria for students to meet if they wish to skip a prerequisite.

Such a system would give students the same opportunities to enroll in advanced courses, and the decision should be made solely on skill and understanding of material.

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