Currently, Palo Alto High School juniors who take the math course Intro to Analysis and Calculus (IAC) are expected to take Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus AB their senior year, the next course in their lane. However, there is a noticeable jump in the level of difficulty between these two courses that may leave students struggling to perform as well in AP Calculus AB as they did in IAC. Because of this, The Campanile recommends that Paly’s math department create a non-AP Calculus course that students in IAC may opt to take their senior year if they do not feel prepared for an AP level calculus course.
IAC broadens students’ understanding of Algebra 2 and Trigonometry and builds on their existing foundation of knowledge regarding these two topics. Many lessons are either more in-depth examinations or review of previously learned concepts. The course ends with a brief preview of Calculus A, but for the most part, students taking AP Calculus AB are delving into a completely new topic their senior year.
However, AP Calculus AB is still taught at around the same pace as IAC is, even though concepts may be brand new, making it difficult for students to fully comprehend material. Therefore, students who were already challenged by IAC will struggle more so in AP Calculus AB, and as the course moves on, these students will fall further and further behind.
Evidence to support the fact that many students who are in AP Calculus AB are not thriving in the class can be seen in the heavy curves that have been placed on several quizzes and unit tests throughout the semester. Even with the high number of students who dropped down from AP Calculus BC to AP Calculus AB, many assessments in the course still have a very low median score, in the 65 to 75 percent range, and are curved to the targeted median for the assessments in the course, 82 percent. The fact that there are such drastic curves in the course and that medians can be as low as a failing grade show that many students are struggling and cannot keep up with the course.
The Campanile acknowledges that the purpose of the AP Calculus AB is to prepare students for the AP exam in May, so even if teachers wish to slow the pace of the course or teach material in a more simplified manner, they cannot do so. In order to adequately cover all important concepts for students to perform well on the exam, material must be taught at a rapid pace and certain depth. Implementing a non-AP Calculus course would create an option for students who do not feel that they are ready for the difficulty of AP Calculus AB to take a calculus course that is not as fast-paced or rigorous. Without the AP exam at the end of the year, teachers have the flexibility to bend the curriculum to the students’ needs, ultimately furthering students’ understanding of the material.
Additionally, it is vital that a non-AP Calculus course be put in place so that students who already know they are struggling in IAC have a better option for a math course in their senior year. It is not reasonable for students in IAC to drop to the next lower lane of math since the course option for seniors directly below AP Calculus AB is Precalculus, which is a simplified version of IAC. If students in IAC do not want to take AP Calculus AB, they must face the decision of not taking math their senior year or taking math electives. Both of these options do not allow students to continue with a traditional path for their math education, especially because the only math elective which fulfills the year long CSU/UC math credit is AP Statistics — arguably a very challenging course as well. With the creation of a non-AP Calculus course, students struggling in IAC and those who decide to drop AP Calculus AB will have a safe option to turn to.
Given the district’s current efforts to alleviate and quell student stress, The Campanile believes that allowing students a choice when it comes to their senior year calculus course will have a substantial positive impact.