Seattle Plans to Get Rid of AP and Honors Classes in All of Their Public Schools


In many schools across the nation, AP and Honors classes are offered to students who want to challenge themselves in particular subjects. According to PrepScholar, AP classes are “designed to give you the experience of an intro-level college class while you’re still in high school.” They can also sometimes be used for college credit, depending on an individual’s score on the AP exam. Honors courses, however, are higher-level classes provided by schools that cover more content at a faster pace than the standard college-preparatory courses. Yet, public schools in Seattle, Oregon are planning to remove AP and Honors classes in the next few years. 


The superintendent of Seattle’s public schools, Denise Juneau, says the primary reason these courses (which are majority white) are being eradicated from their school system is that “the programs for advanced learners turned the school into ‘a slave ship.’” In the school system, students who are identified by teachers as being “gifted” are allowed to enroll in these advanced classes. Juneau points out that the teachers may not take all factors, including home life, into consideration while selecting students for these classes. Instead, more often than not, they focus solely on standardized test scores and grades. These scores may not be the best indicator of a lower-income student’s skill level.

Dori Monson of Kiro Radio believes another (lesser) factor of this decision may be that with the presence of AP/Honors classes, students with little parental involvement or support were being punished for what they could not control. Monson’s daughter was in one of the advanced programs at her school, and Monson notes the majority of parents with students in the advanced classes showed up at the school’s parent night while parents of the students in the lower level classes didn’t. A lack of parental involvement, she says, shouldn’t determine a student’s opportunities, which is why all should be taught at the same level. According to Kiro Nights co-host Gee Scott, he doesn’t “want to take opportunity away,” rather, he wants “to keep the opportunity there,” but he wants “it to be for everyone.” To compensate for this loss of classes, he thinks the standard courses should become more difficult and raise the expectations for all.

The Possible Consequences

The question at hand is, will Seattle’s students be at a disadvantage to others when these classes are taken away from their school system?

Nowadays, applying to colleges can be an extremely competitive process. PrepScholar reports that the three key benefits of taking AP classes in high school are to boost your college application, show your passion, and earn you college credit. Students in Seattle will be able to do none of these things, which might inadvertently hurt their chances of getting into a specific college when compared to another student from across the country.

Additionally, students who are academically advanced, regardless of race or background, may not be performing or learning to their full potential because they are being taught in a single-level environment. Whether or not the plan is the increase the difficulty of these classes for all, understandably, some students will need more assistance and learn at a slower pace than others. Is it fair to put all of these students at the same level? What if the class is too slow-paced and several students are bored? What if some are too afraid to ask questions due to fear of being seen as “dumb” by their peers who are picking up the material with ease? Ultimately, the removal of AP and Honors classes is not without its consequences, despite how good it may seem to many on paper. 

Final Thoughts

Because racial discrimination (whether it is genuinely due to differing home lives, socioeconomic status, or background) seems to be a factor in students being chosen to take advanced placement classes, I don’t fault the superintendent for trying to make a change. However, I don’t think stripping the school system of these advanced classes is the right one. If students’ home lives are preventing them from being recognized and in turn chosen for these advanced placement classes in some school systems, a new policy should be put in place for taking these classes. Maybe, students should have the opportunity to test out the classes and see which level is the best fit for them. Whether this policy or another is implemented, courses at all levels should still be offered. 


This post was written by one of U4SC’s Educators 4SC Research Assistants, Samantha.

[Image Attribute: Eric E. Castro]