Pioneering the New Advanced Placement Capstone Program

Education and learn concept: pixelated words knowledge is power

Simi Valley High School was selected to be one of about 400 schools across the country to trial the new Advanced Placement (AP) Capstone program.

The program “provides students with an opportunity to engage in rigorous scholarly practice of the core academic skills necessary for successful college completion,” according to the College Board, which manages all AP programs. https://lp.collegeboard.org/ap-capstone

Students taking AP classes earn college credit by passing nationally standardized tests in each of the AP classes they take. Students also receive 5, 4, 3 or 2 points associated with their Grade Point Average (GPA) for an A, B, C or D versus the 4, 3, 2, 1 GPA scale when taking a regular course. Because of this, many students taking multiple AP courses graduate with GPAs above 4.0.

Nationally, there are 37 AP classes offered across the major academic disciplines. Simi Valley High School offers 18 different AP classes, which is consistent with AP offerings at other high schools in the area. For a complete list of SVHS’ AP offerings, go to http://www.svhs.simi.k12.ca.us/APandHonors.

AP Capstone

In its pilot stage, AP Capstone has two purposes. First, it offers students interested in learning more about AP courses the chance to learn the skills and academic regimen required to take almost any rigorous academic course successfully. Second, it allows students who have taken several AP courses the ability to demonstrate their readiness for completing high-level college work by writing an advanced research paper.

Two courses make up AP Capstone: AP Seminar and AP Research. AP Seminar is designed to “complement and enhance the in-depth, discipline-specific study experienced in other AP courses,” according to the College Board. It focuses on independent research, detailed analysis of specific issues, collaborative teamwork and developing communication skills. Students will investigate real-world issues from different points of view, gather and analyze information from various sources to develop credible and valid evidence-based arguments.

In AP Research, students refine the skills learned in AP Seminar by conducting independent research in an area of the students’ own interest and by writing a 5,000-word research paper. Students who take three AP courses receive a certificate of completion for AP Capstone, and students who take more than three AP courses receive an AP Capstone diploma.

The Benefits

There are four major benefits for AP Capstone. First, students who have never taken an AP course will be well prepared to take additional AP classes by successfully completing AP Seminar. The primary difference between AP classes and regular classes is not the difficulty of the material, but the skills and discipline needed to cover the increased amount of material in an AP class. By completing the AP Seminar class, students should be ready to take AP level courses.

Second, students successfully completing three or more AP courses will prove their ability to do high-level college work to their prospective colleges. Also, because the AP Research report results in a 5,000 word mini-thesis, these students will have a tangible result that can help them get into a top-level school, a graduate program or land their first post-college job.

Third, AP Capstone students will learn what it means to think critically. The AP Seminar course is essentially a college-level course in critical thinking. The course has five units:

  • Question and Explore
  • Understand and Analyze Arguments
  • Evaluate Multiple Perspectives
  • Synthesize Ideas
  • Team, Transform, and Transmit

As students go through the units, they complete what the College Board considers to be a QUEST associated with learning how to think critically. Usually they do this by choosing their own topics, which leads to the final benefit.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, the most motivated students will have the opportunity to explore topics they are most interested in and to take responsibility for a project from inception to completion. This helps to build self-confidence in their abilities as well as a real satisfaction in doing a job well done. This shouldn’t be underestimated. Students often say that they feel regimented in courses they’ve been forced to study, and that the material boring or irrelevant to their lives. AP Capstone will let them choose areas that interest them, which should lead to increased satisfaction in high school.

Who Is It For?

AP Capstone is great for:

  • College bound students interested in taking their first AP Class;
  • College bound students who plan a comprehensive AP program; and
  • Students in career pathways interested in doing their own in-depth career-related research.

Finally, AP Capstone has one unintended benefit. It fits beautifully into the increasing focus on Career Technical Education (CTE), which has gone way beyond its former focus on technical and trade-oriented careers. CTE today encompasses 15 different major career areas and, quite literally, hundreds of separate career pathways. The overwhelming majority of these pathways leads directly to college, not into a technical or trade training program. For more information on CTE, see our career website: SVHSPathways.com.

When Does It Start?

AP Capstone will start next fall with at least two sections. It will be taught by Loren Dacanay, who currently teaches Chemistry, and Stephen Caswell, who currently teaches Intro to Business, Business Law, Computer Applications and the freshman MAP class. The program is ideal for students interested in any academic discipline or career pathways.

-Our sincere thanks go to Stephen Caswell who wrote this article for us on AP Capstone. 

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