School Rule Punishes Student for AP Self-Study

Question: Our high school just implemented a policy regarding AP Calculus exams.  If a sophomore takes the exam without taking the AP class, he will not be allowed in any math class during his junior year.  The Asst Principal says this can be a problem since elite colleges look for 4 years of math.

The AP website says it doesn’t require a student to take an AP class before taking the AP exam.  Seems like if a student thinks he has it, and wants to attempt the exam, the school should be encouraging him rather than penalizing him. Have you heard of a similar policy at another school?  Is there a way around it?  Thanks.

While “The Dean” hasn’t specifically gotten wind of other high schools that prohibit students from continuing in math after taking the AP Calculus exam, this policy may indeed be in place elsewhere because many schools simply don’t offer classes that are appropriate for a student who has already successfully completed AP Calculus … whether it’s through an actual class or via independent study.  You don’t report, however, whether your son will be taking the AP Calculus AB or BC test. You also say that a student cannot continue in math “during his junior year.” Does this mean that he can take additional math as a senior or does it mean that he can’t continue in math at the high school at all?  It would be helpful for The Dean to have answers to these questions, but I’ll wing it the best I can without them.

If your son will take the Calculus AB exam this spring, then he should be permitted to take a Calc BC class in 11th grade, if it’s offered at his school. It seems silly for a school rule to prevent this. You also don’t mention whether AP Statistics is offered. While some folks view Stats as a poor relation to calculus, many others (The Dean included) maintain that Stats is a completely separate and valuable field. So it certainly seems dumb to ban a student from AP Stats just because he’s completed an AP Calculus exam. Thus, if Calc BC or AP Stats are available at your son’s school (and your son hasn’t taken either yet), it’s time for you to face off with the school board, and you can probably find other families to join you.

But if your fight against City Hall is a losing one (as conventional wisdom suggests that it may be), your son will still have choices. He can take college-level math classes over the summer or possibly during the school year (probably at night or on weekends, depending on the flexibility of his schedule). Many high schools participate in “dual enrollment” programs which facilitate matriculation in challenging classes at local two-year and even four-year colleges.

These days there are countless opportunities for an advanced math student to accelerate, and even the most hyper-competitive colleges will recognize rigorous online, dual-enrollment, and summer courses as legitimate alternatives to the Usual-Suspect high school offerings. Moreover, if your son is able to elect math classes that take him beyond Calculus BC, it will help his application to stand out in a crowd at college-admission time and could actually improve his admission odds rather than diminish them, even if you feel restricted–and annoyed—by the new policy at the local high school.