Advanced Placement®: One Step Forward, Two Steps Forward at Brimmer and May 

Joe Iuliano, Assistant Head of Academic Affairs
Recently, the College Board’s Advanced Placement® (AP) course program has come into the forefront of the news as a result of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s education policymaking in that state. Back in mid-January, DeSantis guided the Florida Department of Education to inform the College Board that it would not offer AP African American Studies, a new course being piloted in 60 schools across the nation. According to a report by CNN, the Department of Education’s rationale for this action was that the course is “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.” The CNN report added, “DeSantis spokesman Bryan Griffin said in a statement to CNN that the course ‘leaves large, ambiguous gaps that can be filled with additional ideological material, which we will not allow.’”

Trustees of the College Board include school leaders in both public and private schools, colleges, and universities—including ones in Florida. On its website, the College Board provides this information about itself and its objectives: “Founded in 1900, College Board was created to expand access to higher education. Today, the membership association is made up of over 6,000 of the world’s leading educational institutions and is dedicated to promoting excellence and equity in education.” This work includes seeking to expand opportunities and offerings for all students. In reference to the AP African American History course, the College Board states on its website: “Drawing from the expertise and experience of college faculty and teachers across the country, the course is designed to offer high school students an evidence-based introduction to African American studies. The interdisciplinary course reaches into a variety of fields—literature, the arts and humanities, political science, geography, and science—to explore the vital contributions and experiences of African Americans.” The framework for the course can be found at here on the AP website.  
Once the pilot program is complete by 2024, the AP African American History will be the College Board’s 40th course offered within seven disciplines: arts, English, history and social sciences, math and computer science, sciences, world languages and culture, and a capstone diploma program focused on research and presentation skills. College Board suggests that the successful completion of five AP courses during high school should have a student well-prepared for college studies. At Brimmer and May, we try to impress on students that these courses present good challenges for them, but we also want them to consider their interests and their course load when selecting AP courses as part of their schedule for the school year. Taking two AP courses with three advanced courses and two electives in junior or senior year is a workout for students who are effectively taking more than a college workload while having more time in class and less time out of it to study and complete assignments. 

However, the Center for American Progress (a slightly left-leaning think tank) suggests several benefits students might gain by pursuing advanced coursework in high school, including AP, International Baccalaureate (IB), and dual enrollment courses: 
  • improved student self-esteem 
  • increased student engagement in studies (including fewer absences) 
  • ability to earn college credit in high school (providing greater course selection flexibility in college studies and cost savings) 
  • could lead to a shorter time to earn a college degree 
  • increased likelihood of students double majoring 
  • increased likelihood of students taking advanced math and laboratory science in college 
  • greater likelihood of graduating high school and going to college and earning a degree 
  • correlation with significant measures of postsecondary success compared with students who do not take advanced courses (Campbell, Neil, Chatterji, Roby and Quirk, Abby. “Report: Closing Advanced Coursework Equity Gaps for All Students.” 
For the past four graduating classes at Brimmer (2020-2023), the average number of AP courses completed by students after their junior year is two and after their senior year is four. The number of courses taken by this same group of students ranges from 0 to 11, with the most numerous enrollments occurring in AP Computer Science Principles and AP English Language and Composition. The College Board does not recommend that students in grade 9 take AP courses, and Brimmer follows this guidance; however, some students do take their first AP course in grade 10 and often follow up with additional AP enrollments during the next two years. AP courses definitely present a challenge. 

Stepping into the Wayback Machine with Sherman and Mr. Peabody, one can visit Brimmer and May’s Upper School news site, The Gator, and see that it ran three articles about Advanced Placement courses: in 2015, Chardon Brooks, ’15 offered an opinion piece titled, “Abolish Advanced Placement?”; this was followed by “AP Classes at Brimmer: Under the Microscope” by Elizabeth Picken, ’17, and then “To Meet Demand, School Offers Multiple AP Sections,” by Abby Mynahan, ’19. Ms. Brooks came down on the opposing side of the AP argument but offered some counterpoints from her classmates who found their courses engaging; Ms. Picken presented a state-of-the-AP-at-Brimmer overview and offered a poll at the end of her news piece to allow for reader input; and Ms. Mynahan provided the school community with news about the uptick in AP course enrollment including the doubling up of sections in several courses. Each of these articles presented degrees of ambivalence about the courses, citing both limitations and advantages to students enrolled in one or more Brimmer AP courses. 

Brimmer began offering AP courses at the turn of the millennium, initially to meet advanced math students where they were as learners and then adding and subtracting courses over the years to the present day when we offer 16 courses (some in alternating years). While College Board prescribes a course syllabus—content and skills—each school and teacher can make the courses their own and create the classroom learning experience for their students. Thus, AP Computer Science Principles is Brimmer and May’s AP Computer Science Principles course taught by Mr. Bock. 

Back in the winter of 2015, when we began discussing the possible addition of an AP tech course, we looked at the two offerings, AP Computer Science Principles and AP Computer Science A (Programming). Part of the AP Comp Sci course description still reads the same today: “During the course, you’ll learn the principles that support the science of computing and develop thinking skills computer scientists use. You’ll work individually and as part of a team to creatively address real-world issues using the tools and processes of computation.” It sounded like a Brimmer course then, and it is still taught like a Brimmer course today.  

While he doesn’t always love College Board’s approach to things, Mr. Bock is a strong advocate for the content and skills presented in a course like AP Computer Science Principles, and he always gives the students a solid learning experience. He uses the
Beauty and Joy of Computing AP syllabus ( and still proudly wears the jacket that came with the course training. He’s been an AP Comp Sci grader, and he is now in his seventh year of teaching the course and is teaching two sections of it for the fourth time. He’d love to see a course like this—AP or not— be a required course for our students. “It’s a nice course,” he says, “and I have time within the AP course to examine topical issues like ChapGPT and ethical issues as well.” He incorporates essential questions, follows curriculum guideposts, and gets results. His students generally bring up the Massachusetts and national exam average, and even better, visiting alumni who took the courses tell him regularly that the work they did in AP Comp Sci was helpful to them in their college studies. 

As a college-preparatory school, Brimmer and May offers advanced coursework in several disciplines that are not in the AP stable: these include the junior/senior English course electives, several history courses including The Cold War, Global Social Justice, International Relations, Latin American History, The Supreme Court, and Women’s Studies, to name a few, and the Advanced Seminar courses in Chinese, French, and Spanish. In addition, the Upper School offers several advanced visual and performing arts courses, and the Math, Science, and Technology departments provide advanced courses as well. Many of these use college textbooks, scholarly articles, and other resources as a basis for study in the course, and all require students to complete challenging demonstrations of understanding and mastery, from class discussions to projects to course exams. Brimmer offers two stables of thoroughbred courses, ones that challenge our students, help them gain skills, knowledge, and understanding, prepare them for future studies, and propel them toward life-long learning. They can enjoy the best of both worlds in their schooling.
As an inclusive private school community, Brimmer welcomes students who will increase the diversity of our school. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex, gender, gender identity and expression, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, or any other characteristic protected from discrimination under state or federal law, in the administration of our educational policies, admissions practices, financial aid decisions, and athletic and other school-administered programs.