Multiple school districts across the state, including Portland Public Schools (PPS) and Lake Oswego School District (LOSD), have chosen to move forward with a four-class semester schedule. For high schools with International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced Placement (AP) programs, this is a horrible decision.
The IB program consists of two intensive years in which students must study across six subject groups– language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics, and the arts– culminating in IB examinations in the spring. Students who pass their exams can potentially be awarded with college credits, especially at international colleges and universities.
The AP program is another way for high school students to be awarded college credits and take college level courses. Students can take a variety of AP subjects ranging from AP 3D Art to AP Statistics to AP English Language in order to challenge themselves. Students are then tested in early May. Their scores determine whether their university will award them credits.
A four-class semester schedule would only permit high school students to take four classes per semester, as opposed to the normal year-long, eight-class schedule. This will allow schools to ensure smaller class sizes and adequate teaching staff. While this four-class semester schedule may work for some schools, it does not align with IB or AP instructional frameworks.
Why the Four-Period Class Schedule Doesn’t Work for the IB Program
IB students need two years of continuous, uninterrupted instruction in order to be successful in the IB program. With the four-class semester schedule, they would not be getting the proper teaching that they need to pass the IB exam in May.
PPS, the largest school district in Oregon, made the decision to follow the four-class semester schedule in late July. This decision presented major issues for the IB schools in the PPS district: Lincoln High School and Cleveland High School.
Fortunately, PPS Chief of Schools Shawn Bird was able to create accommodations to allow IB schools in the PPS district to maintain their yearlong schedules. But not every student in Oregon is lucky enough to have their schedules changed too.
As a rising junior at Lincoln who is planning on entering the IB program this coming year, I am extremely concerned about different districts’ plans to move forward with the four-class semester schedule.
Knowing what I know about the challenging material in the IB program, I cannot imagine how students could learn enough material in only one semester to pass the May IB examination. With the four-class semester schedule, students who have an IB class first semester will be forced to take a test on material they learned four months prior. Students who begin the course second semester will only have a few months to prepare for the test.
Additionally, the four-class semester schedule is going to create a huge amount of unnecessary stress for students. For example, students in IB math, which is already a difficult course, will have to learn all of the material required in a very short time period. Students who may not be strong in a certain subject will be forced to learn it in a condensed amount of time, which will create even more anxiety in an already high-pressure environment.
The four-class semester schedule just doesn't work for IB schools. Juniors won't know the material they need to know to test out of a subject. Seniors who have already dedicated so much of their time and effort to get their IB degree may not be able to finish the program. For some, not being able to receive one or two semesters worth of college credit from the program may be a huge financial burden for families, as earning these credits would save a ton of money in tuition and fees.
The four-class semester schedule needs to be changed to fit the needs of IB students.
Why the Four-Period Class Schedule Doesn’t Work for the AP Program
Although uninterrupted instruction is not mandatory under AP requirements, the four-class semester schedule still leaves students in this program at a severe disadvantage.
Since AP exams are in the beginning of May, students taking an AP subject during the second semester will lose out on over a month of curriculum and instruction before the exam. Because AP classes are considered college level courses, the material is more difficult and more compact.
With this new schedule, students taking AP exams second semester will have less than half the instruction time than previously. It’s unfair to expect high school students to complete a college level course in less than a semester, and then score well on their exams. On the other hand, students who take the AP subject in the first semester will have a four month hiatus between their last class and the AP exam. Some students, especially high school juniors and seniors who are applying and leaving for college within the next year, are taking more than 4 AP classes a year. They’ll need to face both disadvantages, which again decreases the likelihood of scoring well and retaining the information.
It’s important to note that the AP exam is the sole determinant of whether a student will get college credit. By leaving students unprepared for these exams, high schools are failing to set students up for success.
I took two AP courses during the 2019-20 school year as a freshman at Lakeridge High School and have forecasted for 3 classes this coming year. Although we only began distance learning in mid March, the AP coursework and exams last year were extremely difficult to do online. We had an entire school year’s worth of instruction time, but two months of online learning definitely handicapped students’ ability to pass their exams and get college credit.
As we begin another school year on distance learning, I’m apprehensive about the AP program. Finishing an entire college level course within one semester seems difficult, especially if that semester is an online course.
As students in these programs, we know just how stressful school can be. Especially come exam time, when we frantically study late into the night. By utilizing the semester system, students are even less prepared and will be more stressed than previously.
PPS made the right decision in allowing IB schools to maintain their yearlong, 8-period class schedules. Other school districts across the state must follow its lead.
Cate Bikales is a junior at Lincoln High School. Emily Zou is a sophomore at Lakeridge High School. They are both members of Oregon Student Voice, a student-led organization that empowers all students to be authentic partners in making decisions that affect their K-12 education.