High schoolers test themselves in advanced placement classes

Students in Jamie Uthe’s advanced placement government class at Johnsburg High School discussed a hypothetical situation: The president has to make a decision on how to free American citizens held hostage by a terrorist group in Iraq.

Uthe plays devil’s advocate during the discussion as students debate whether to stand by U.S. policy of not negotiating with terrorists and enlist the aid of friendly nations in the region, secretly exchange arms for the hostages, or use the military to rescue them.

Senior Elise Heiser said using the military should be a last resort.

“If another country can’t get it done, then we go in,” she said.

Fellow senior Dan Grobarcik agreed.

“We’re not conceding, we’re using other avenues to free the hostages,” he said. “We’re using our allies to help us out.”

More and more students are participating in these higher-level discussions as enrollment in advanced placement classes has increased over the years in schools in McHenry County and the states. More students work toward earning college credit before they set foot on a college campus.

The classes are more challenging and help prepare students for college-level work, and might save them money, Grobarcik said.

“It makes you want to work and think about things,” Grobarcik said.

Heiser said she has more writing in her AP classes.

“You write more papers, you have to think about things more than just memorizing,” she said. “It’s critical thinking. There isn’t solid answers to everything.”

Johnsburg High School, which offers 10 advanced placement courses, began offering AP government in 2006. AP U.S. History was added four years ago.

Uthe said he has students where AP government might be their first AP class.

“They really start to understand the material more,” Uthe said. “Their reading skills increase, their writing skills increase. That’s a result of the fact they’re really being challenged at the AP level, and they’re able to step up to it.”

Students who take AP classes can take an exam in May, and if they score a three or higher on a five-point scale, they can earn college credit. The credit might allow them to take other courses in college after they place out of entry-level classes.

In recent years, some schools have increased the number of AP classes they offer. McHenry District 156 plans to add psychology and human geography next year.

“We have had a huge growth in those taking courses,” said Brent Raby, director of curriculum and instruction for District 156.

Of those students who take the end-of-the-year exams, about two-thirds in District 156 earn college credit, Raby said.

But not all students take the end-of-year exam, he said. Each exam costs the student $89. There are cost reductions for those on free or reduced lunch.

But “that $89 investment can save thousand of dollars in the long run,” Raby said.

Saving money down the line is just one benefit. Being in a more rigorous class than the traditional high school class is another reason for taking an AP course. The classes offer more exposure to the subject area and allow students to challenge themselves.

“It’s the rigor and measuring yourself up to college-level work,” Raby said. “If I’m a senior and I’m going to college next year, it would be nice to know, ‘How ready am I?’ ”

“Our big push is getting them into class,” Raby said.

At Johnsburg High School, enrollment in AP classes is holding steady, Assistant Principal Kim Hinley said.

Staff at that school encourage students to take AP courses if they have an interest in the subject.

AP classes require more independent work and independent reading by students, Hinley said.

For classes such as AP calculus or an AP science class, there is more application of concepts, especially with labs or practice problems.

“Students have to be dedicated and put effort outside the classroom,” Hinley said. “There’s much more independent work that needs to be done. When they come to class, it is more in-depth discussion.”

At Huntley High School, psychology, macroeconomics, microeconomics, art history and environmental science are among the AP classes offered.

At Huntley, students who take AP courses are required to take the AP exam at the end of the year, which allows the school to see how well its program is doing. If students aren’t doing well, it might be a sign the school needs to change the curriculum, AP calculus teacher Steve Styers said.

“Part of taking an AP course is students accept and want a taste of what a college course is,” Styers said. “In a college course, you have a high-stakes test in the end.”


Carpentersville District 300

2012: 545 students

2011: 550 students

2010: 417 students

2009: 365 students

2008: 367 students

Huntley High School

2012: 516 students

2011: 371 students

2010: 259 students

2009: 201 students

2008: 127 students

Marengo District 154

2012: 113 students

2011: 108 students

2010: 111 students

2009: 68 students

2008: 29 students

Crystal Lake District 155

2012: 872 students

2011: 756 students

2010: 718 students

2009: 713 students

2008: 630 students

McHenry District 156

2012: 655 students

2011: 378 students

2010: 378 students

2009: 254 students

2008: 180 students

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