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The Best Opportunities in Minnesota High Schools

August 08, 2008 By Carrie Beck, Undergraduate Research Fellow

Even since I graduated from high school three years ago, the options to help prepare students for college have continued to expand.  From AP to CLEP, IB to PSEO, and from honors to accelerated classes the numerous acronyms and programs are a bit confusing.

Advanced Placement (AP), the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP), and Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) all allow students to earn college credit while in high school.  These are popular options for high school students and their parents because they huge amounts of time and money.  They're also pushed by Governor Pawlenty.

The  'Honors' or 'Accelerated' classes are for students who are not quite ready for the rigor of college level courses in high school.  There is no opportunity to gain college credit in these courses.  But they look good on a transcript, showing a student opted for a challenge over a general class.

The push to chase elite names hurts students who are ready for challenging coursework but not a college-level class.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Program is yet another college preparatory curriculum gaining popularity.  It was created in Geneva, Switzerland for the children of diplomats and businessmen, to assure consistent programming when moving among schools.  About 2 percent of public schools in the US, including 12 high schools in MN, offer the International Baccalaureate program. The program is well-aligned with college curricula and expectations.

AP, CLEP, and PSEO allow students to elect which subjects to pursue and get college credit for as many or as few classes as they like or their high school offers.  IB allows for this option but also has diploma and honors programs.  IB programs combine six Standard and Higher Level courses in traditional subjects and a Theory of Knowledge class, as well as required creative, active, and service elements.  Completing the IB Diploma takes two years of high school and at some schools can place the student out of one year of college.

With so many options, it is difficult for schools to choose programs that are best for all students.

AP and IB are similar in nature.  AP provides lecture-based courses akin to any '101' course at a college or university.  An IB course provides a more in-depth perspective on fewer topics within the subject.

Ann Swanson, President of IB Minnesota and Minnetonka High School's IB coordinator said, "High schools choose to implement the IB program in order to provide 'world-class' education."  While internationally renowned colleges and universities have set standards for accepting IB credit, according to the 2007-2008 Credit Policies for Courses in MN Colleges and Universities issued by the MN Department of Education, AP is the most widely accepted program amongst MN colleges and universities.

The size of the schools in Minnesota that offer IB ranges from approximately 450 students to 3000 students.  Some of the larger schools also offer AP.  But few are able to offer honors or accelerated courses in addition to two college level options. 

St. Louis Park High School, with a student population of about 1300 implemented the IB program twelve years ago in addition to their preexisting AP program.  Consequently, they eliminated several Honors classes.  In 11th and 12th grade students now have two college level options (AP and IB) in some subjects and no option in between those and a general level class.

Highland Park Senior High School IB Coordinator Charlotte Landreau said, "We chose the IB program 15 years ago because we were looking for a school wide initiative, value the international focus, and seek to bring all or most of our students into the rigorous classes offered."  Highland Park also offers very few middle ground options, especially is grades 11 and 12.

While the IB program is certainly a fantastic and unique opportunity, schools must heed caution when implementing it, especially if it means sacrificing options for some of their students.  Ensuring the best opportunities for students of all levels is more important than chasing after the 'world-class' title that IB provides.  What is truly great about AP and IB programs is that they allow exceptional students to push themselves as far as they can. But we must extend this opportunity to Minnesota students of all levels.

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