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AP Physics students during a lab session. This year, Telluride School District is offering 13 AP courses. (Courtesy photo)

Students across the Telluride School District will return to classrooms Aug. 21, including approximately 275 high school students — most of whom are enrolled in one of 13 Advanced Placement (AP) courses this year. The national AP program offers 38 courses across multiple subject areas with culminating exams administered to high school students each May. Few schools the size of Telluride High School (THS) offer such a wide range of AP courses, from AP Studio Art to AP Calculus BC. Typically, the most popular AP classes at THS are AP English Language, AP English Literature and AP Environmental Science, according to officials.

Telluride Middle/High School Principal Sara Kimble said that AP offerings have increased over the last six years per the needs and desires of the student population.

“We didn’t have any science offerings, so we added some science APs. We didn’t have anyone who could teach the Spanish AP, but now we do, so we added a Spanish AP class,” she explained. “With the increase and interest in technology, we also added a Computer Science AP class.”

Developed by college and AP high school faculty, AP exams test students’ ability to perform at a college level. Each year. AP teachers submit their syllabi to the College Board — the organization that oversees the AP program — for approval.

David Lavender, who teaches AP English Language and taught AP English Literature for years, said that he has freedom to develop his courses because the exams aren’t content-driven, but skill-driven.

“There are some courses, like U.S. History, Environmental Science and Physics, where a certain math or content has to be driven through,” he said.  

He says AP courses involve elevated discourse and challenge to promote a sense of self-confidence that students can handle academic rigor. While Lavender said his AP courses aren’t that different from other courses he teaches, he does teach to the test.

“Right about late-April or May, I tell the students, ‘OK, after all I’ve told you about writing, here’s how you need to write to do well on this exam,’” Lavender explained.

The College Board hosts AP professional development workshops across the country. Kimble makes sure that THS AP teachers attend a workshop in Denver.

In past years, Lavender, along with AP teachers Scott Lambert and Jessica Heady, have served as exam readers.  

“We spend a week in June scoring exams for the College Board from across the country,” Lavender said. “Last time, I read 1,300 essays. In terms of professional development, it’s the best thing you can do.”

All AP tests are scored on a 1-5 scale, with 3 considered passing. The percentage of THS students who took AP tests and scored a 3 or above was 65 percent in 2019, 74 percent in 2018 and 83 percent in 2017, respectively.

THS maintains an open enrollment policy for most AP courses — though courses like AP Calculus require prerequisite courses — relying on individual counseling rather than established GPA’s for student placement in AP classes.

“Our philosophy is if kids want to challenge themselves, then we want to help them challenge themselves,” Kimble said. “And for some kids that’s no AP classes. For some kids it’s one.”

Kimble said students have also taken AP classes online that THS doesn’t offer — like AP German, AP Art History and AP Chemistry — with THS staff administering corresponding exams in May.

If a student is enrolled in an AP class at THS, then they must take the AP exam.  

“That’s not a College Board policy, that’s our policy,” Kimble said. “If you don’t take the test, then you lose the AP designation on your transcript.”

Kimble discourages students from taking more than four AP classes (out of seven classes) in a given year.  

“We want kids to be kids,” she said. “We want them to play sports and do extra-curricular activities and not be inundated with the stress of too many AP classes.”

Most THS students wait until grade 10 or 11 to take AP’s, however, ninth graders are permitted to take AP Computer Science if they’ve demonstrated interest in the subject during middle school.  

Last year, 45 percent of sophomores, 75 percent of juniors and 80 percent of seniors at THS were enrolled in at least one AP course.

Both Kimble and Lavender agreed that a variety of successfully completed AP classes boosts a student’s academic transcript.

“We’re a small school, and these offerings also help us stand out in terms of rigor so that colleges know what we’re offering,” Kimble said.  

Lavender said students can accrue college credits and save a lot of money because many four-year colleges, especially state schools, give students credit, advanced placement in college courses or both on the basis of AP exam scores.  

Because AP classes are weighted in a student’s overall GPA, Kimble explained some students may take APs for the weighted grade.

“But we want people to take classes because that’s what they’re interested in and that’s what they’re passionate about,” she added.