BY KYLIE YEATMAN
One course, two different teachers, two different teaching styles…and an identical pass rate. In AP Literature, one of the most difficult courses at Carmel High School, this feat is a reality.
Taught by both Barbara Steinberg and Pat Robel, the course is often cited by both students and the teachers themselves as heavily differing depending on which class a student ends up in, even if the same general guidelines are met. In AP Literature, much leeway is given to those teaching this course as to what their students read and how they learn, so long as the same ideas are being learned.
“I think there needs to be enough room for individual development as long as you’re meeting the standards of the curriculum, or in the case of an AP course, you’re meeting the standards of the College Board,” Steinberg emphasizes. “As long as the students are getting that challenge, I don’t think there’s an issue.”
While sharing both common curriculum and a common goal, many teachers find unique ways to teach any number of subjects, including the amount of homework assigned, the time spent lecturing or even the use of particular textbooks. However, this individuality potentially comes at the risk of losing curriculum alignment.
Two types of alignment are commonly referred to in public education: vertical alignment and horizontal alignment. Vertical alignment focuses on how a student learns skills in class to equip them with knowledge for the next course they’ll take within that subject, whereas horizontal alignment refers to the alignment of courses at the same grade level, in essence assuring that students of the same grade level are developing the same skills, even with different teachers.
In lieu of such alignment, English teacher Hans Schmidt argues that importance lies in teaching to passion, rather than being forced to teach one specific way.
“I think it’s really important for teachers to teach what they’re passionate about,” remarks Schmidt, who bases his curriculum more heavily on writing than some teachers in his field, expressing that academic alignment may not be a necessity and could be detrimental for students.
As students progress through the grade levels, far more College Board-designed Advanced Placement courses are offered, and differences in class goals diminish. But barring the lockstep standards of these classes, many variations of academic content can cause classes to differ.
Vertical alignment, on the other hand, has proven difficult when consecutive courses may be unrelated, even if they are categorized under the same concept. This is the case for Social Studies, which consists of four accelerated courses—two history courses, AP World History and AP U.S. History, and two political/geographical courses, AP Human Geography and AP Government and Politics.
AP Government and Politics teacher Bill Schrier remarks that social studies courses are often inconsistent and that preparation may not always be linear.
“AP World and AP U.S. History are very similar because the College Board created them that way,” Schrier remarks. “They are not making any effort that I know of to make AP Human Geography or AP Government and Politics like those courses.”
Schrier particularly notes that this may be because AP Human Geography and AP Government and Politics are not history classes, though still fall into the realm of social studies.
“I think students sometimes forget that, and then assume they’re taking history because they’re in social studies, but it’s not true,” Schrier says. “The preparation you get in AP Human Geography is the level of rigor, but it’s not teaching you how to study history.”
Despite dissimilarity among courses, taking honors or AP-level courses earlier on can be beneficial for students to understand the rigor of these classes, even without similarity in content.
In terms of standards, Next Generation Science Standards coach Jason Maas-Baldwin notes that the connections among science courses have been strengthened through the new standards and that the primary function of NGSS is to involve more geocentric concepts into existing courses, helping align science courses.
“There should be an overarching environmental or Earth sciences theme throughout the courses,” Maas-Baldwin says. “We decided to take our existing courses and sort of fuse the environmental and Earth science ideas into them.”
Despite standards regulating that Earth sciences be implemented, Chemistry teacher Dr. Curtis Smith reveals that, when formulating his syllabus, he makes an attempt to combine pre-existing standards with NGSS standards in order to balance the education students receive. According to Smith, this is in part due to students seeking to enter the AP Chemistry course, a class taught under the regulations of the College Board as opposed to the NGSS standards.
“The problem that came into effect is that the junior kids graduate their class and the sophomore kids graduate from my class, and they both want to take AP Chemistry,” Smith reflects.
Smith expresses that the disconnect between the standards of the College Board in AP Chemistry and of those for NGSS Chemistry are radically different and may cause difficulty for students taught under the NGSS standards in the AP course.
Maas-Baldwin looks positively on the changes, noting that the changes reflect a shift from rote memorization to practical application of science in class.
“One of the big criticisms from colleges is that kids weren’t actually learning how to do science,” Maas-Baldwin says. “They were just becoming memorizers of facts, and in an age of being able to easily Google that stuff, being a scientific thinker is more important than just [memorizing facts].”
As Smith notes, the scientific curriculum is ever-changing in order to ease more students on into science and later go into STEM fields.
Though teachers within the same field may have the same regulations, variations in style can often help teachers teach more to what they are passionate about and in turn positively impact the students.