Kehillah Advanced Topics

Kehillah Advanced Topics Announcement Letter

Dear Kehillah Community,

When I first started at Kehillah, I shared a book with our faculty called A School of Own, which tells the story of an educational researcher and her son who collaborated on the creation of a new school where students could pursue their passions, cultivate mastery, and take meaningful ownership over their learning. Freed from the constraints of traditional schooling, education would become a space of possibility, one that catalyzed the tremendous potential of educators and students alike. 

Thankfully, this innovative spirit is alive and well at Kehillah, whether our students are working on Citizen Science projects in collaboration with NASA, or designing advanced GPS systems in our MakerSpace. Meanwhile, our faculty continues to study how to strengthen and diversify our academic program, so that students are truly positioned as active participants and protagonists in the learning process. For these reasons and more, I’ve never been more excited for the extraordinary future that lies ahead for Kehillah.

 

Advanced Study at Kehillah

With these values in mind, I write with an exciting update about our curriculum. Beginning in the 2025-2026 school year, we will no longer offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses at Kehillah. Instead, we will be offering independently designed, accelerated courses—KAT: Kehillah Advanced Topics—  that empower students to pursue their passions and engage in challenging and sophisticated inquiry across our academic program. Although AP courses will continue through the 2024-2025 school year, we will offer new courses under the Kehillah Advanced Topics designation in the Fall of 2024. We anticipate continuing to administer AP examinations should students elect to take them, with time set aside during the two weeks in May they are offered. 

Our decision reflects growing concern about the limitations of the AP program, which outsources curriculum planning and assessment for our most advanced students and compels teachers to “teach to a test,” a process that places a premium on memorization and rapid content acquisition, thus limiting students’ college readiness and preparation. In contrast, Kehillah Advanced Topics (KAT) courses – which are UC accredited Honors Courses – allow us to infuse our most advanced course offerings with innovative curricula based on intensive research, writing, and problem solving. 

 

Our Process

We want to assure you that this decision emerges from extended deliberation with our faculty, administrative, and college counseling teams, combined with the work we did with Challenge Success in helping us reimagine our curriculum, schedule, and academic program. We have also been in regular contact with many of our partner schools who have successfully transitioned away from the AP program, including Mid-Peninsula High School, Hillbrook School, Lick-Wilmerding, Crystal Springs Upland, The Bay School, Shalhevet High School, Drew High School, Marin Academy, Urban School, Athenian, and countless others both locally and nationally. 

Meanwhile, our own discussions with college admissions officers and partner schools indicate that the sort of student-driven, exploration-centered learning that Kehillah intends to offer is far more compelling than an AP score. As college admissions officers routinely note, the real question for colleges is whether an applicant has taken a high school’s most demanding courses; the AP designation itself is irrelevant. 

We know this adjustment may prompt questions, and we are available to answer them:

  • Visit the Kehillah Advanced Topics page for more details, resources, and a comprehensive FAQ.
  • Share your remaining questions with us through the form on the webpage.
  • Join us for the virtual and in-person events listed below.

 

Thank you for your partnership and support as work to offer an educational program that prepares students for extraordinary futures – at Kehillah, and beyond. 

Sincerely,

 

Dr. Roy Danovitch, Associate Head of School

with

Dr. Daisy Pellant, Head of School

Kaylin Liang, Director of College Counseling

Jordana Bischoff, College Counseling

Dr. Dave Weiner, Director of Admission and Enrollment Management

Richard Brownstone, Dean of Academic Operations

Robert Stewart, Dean of Science

Dr. Zachi Baharav, Interim Dean of Mathematics

Richard Nybakken, Dean of History

Dale Pagano, Dean of English

Ronit Balan, Dean of World Languages

Rabbi Dennis Eisner, Dean of Jewish Life

Shifra Elfman, Dean of Jewish Studies

Jennifer Idleman, Dean of Visual and Performing Arts

RM Pellant, Dean of Academic Technology

Megan Miraglia, Dean of Students

Can you summarize Kehillah’s process?

As with all components of our academic program, Kehillah faculty has regularly reviewed our AP course offerings in an effort to ensure they are still serving our students. Due to many colleges’ shifting priorities and research in teaching and learning, the answer in recent years has increasingly been no. Last year, a group of faculty, students, and parents teamed with Challenge Success to assess and improve well-being among our students. A few initiatives emerged as a result, the most public of which was a shift in our daily block schedule. When considering other ways to continue our dedication to deep and authentic learning at Kehillah, while preserving student wellbeing, the AP courses emerged again as a pain point. At the end of last year, faculty began deliberating in earnest what could be done to change this dynamic.

Taking into account the growing concern about the limitations of the AP program and our corresponding desire to develop more sophisticated courses (KAT: Kehillah Advanced Topics)  that align with our commitment to critical thinking, inquiry-based learning, and immersive study, we decided that beginning in the 2025-2026 school year, Kehillah will no longer offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses. 

What are the arguments behind replacing traditional AP classes with independently designed, advanced courses?

The AP program, despite some of its advantages, has a number of flaws that contribute to the stress levels of both students and faculty. AP courses have been created by an outside third party and are often criticized for being “a mile wide and an inch deep,” since many are too much about coverage of material in preparation for an end-of-year exam and not enough of intensive research, writing, and problem-solving. 

What are some of the characteristics of Kehillah Advanced Topics (KAT) courses?

Open to highly qualified students, KAT courses introduce students to college-level work, and deeper engagement with more complex and challenging material. KAT courses are accredited University of California honors courses based on selective admission criteria, and weighted on a 5.0 GPA scale. The classes:

  • cultivate mastery in specific or interconnected disciplines.
  • encourage high levels of engagement and performance in response to complex questions.
  • require advanced ability for critical analysis and interpretation of texts, data sets and evidence.
  • support bold inquiry, investigation, and research.
  • involve a comprehensive examination or a substantive, culminating project designed to exhibit depth of knowledge and sustained mastery of subject material gained from the course.
What KAT courses will be offered next year?

In 2024-2025, we will be offering KAT courses that include MultiVariable Calculus, Data Structures, Advanced Music Theory, and Modern Middle East History. These courses will complement our current AP offerings. In 2025-2026, Advanced Topics courses – in Chemistry, Calculus, Biology, and more – will fully replace the AP program. KAT courses will include many, if not most, of the topics already included in Advanced Placement (AP) courses, but removing the AP designation will empower our faculty to probe more deeply into compelling topics and integrate more intensive reading, writing, and research.

Will my child’s college application process be hindered by the absence of Advanced Placement (AP) courses on their transcript?

No. Colleges and universities want assurance that the applicants have taken a rigorous academic program that has prepared them for the demands of higher education. What matters in the college admissions process is that applicants have pursued a challenging course of study at their respective high schools and within the context of their individual high school’s curricula and course offerings. No Kehillah student will be disadvantaged for not having taken AP courses if the school simply does not offer them.

How will Kehillah let colleges know that APs are not offered at the school?

Kehillah will, of course, communicate this change explicitly to all of the universities and colleges our students consider. To that end, the School Profile (which accompanies every transcript to colleges) will be revised, and each transcript will bear a stamp highlighting the fact that Kehillah does not offer AP Courses, so that it is clear to the college admissions officer reading the transcript.

Don’t students have to take AP exams as part of the college process?

No. AP scores are not required as part of the application process. AP scores are self-reported by students, which is entirely optional.

Will you still administer the Advanced Placement examinations?

Yes. We anticipate continuing to administer AP examinations should students elect to take them, with time set aside during the two weeks in May they are offered.

Will KAT courses still prepare students for the AP Exam in that subject area?

We anticipate the classroom experiences will provide a strong foundation as part of a student’s preparation for AP examinations. However, because our program will not follow AP curriculum, there are areas where a student will have deepened content knowledge and areas where additional preparation will be needed before taking the AP exam.

Can my child still receive college credit for passing scores on AP Exams?

A growing list of colleges restrict the number of subject areas where advanced standing is awarded, and many schools, including CalTech, Dartmouth, Brown, Williams, Amherst, Harvey Mudd, and Colby, do not award any credit at all. Stanford, for example, does not award credit for or determine placement with AP English Language and Literature and all first and second year students are required to take the Stanford-designed English course. Meanwhile, more and more universities are requiring top scores (4 or 5) to earn any credit at all. UCLA and UC Berkeley recently decided to stop awarding general education credit for AP. That said, students will still have the option to take AP exams in the spring, and students can check the websites of individual colleges to confirm their policies regarding awarding credit for AP exams.

How will students’ admission to the University of California (UC) system be affected, as UC schools weight GPAs for AP classes?

The University of California evaluates every course at every high school in the state and categorizes each course as either “AP/Honors” or standard college preparatory. If a course earns the “AP/Honors” designation, students are given an additional “bump” of 1.0 in their G.P.A. Therefore, students can still receive the GPA bump with all Kehillah Honors and KAT courses.

Where can I learn more about APs and advanced alternatives?

One of the most frequent reactions to the AP question relates to the perceived impact on college admission. This is a natural concern among those who are familiar with the history of the APs, when the fact of their scarcity caused them to stand out across a student’s transcript. However, the proliferation of APs over the past thirty years has been followed by a corresponding decline in their stature, along with the college credits they guarantee. As the Progressive Policy Institute has noted “while the number of students taking AP exams grows, colleges and universities are making it increasingly difficult for them to get actual college credit. Eighty-six percent of the top 153 universities and colleges in the United States restrict the awarding of AP credit, denying students hundreds of millions in tuition savings. Only a handful of colleges deny AP credit altogether, but many others restrict the granting of credits”

Further, a growing list of colleges restrict the number of subject areas where advanced standing is awarded, and many schools, including CalTech, Dartmouth, Brown, Williams, Amherst, Harvey Mudd, and Colby, do not award any credit at all. Similarly, UCLA and UC Berkeley recently decided to stop awarding general education credit for AP. Not surprisingly, a growing list of independent schools have departed from the program, in favor of their own advanced curricula that has led to more sophisticated programming and more competitive college admissions.

As Marilyn McGrath-Lewis, former Director of Admissions at Harvard University said, “We look at whether the applicant has taken the high school’s most demanding courses. But whether the classes are designated AP or not is irrelevant. Abolishing the AP classes won’t hurt the kids.” Shawn Abbott, the former Director of Admissions at Stanford noted in an interview with Independent Curriculum that at “…places where the curriculum is seen as more innovative and risk-taking…often have the intellectual vitality that we seek. The absence of AP courses at these schools doesn’t hinder their chances for admission to highly selective colleges and universities in any way.”

Further, the presence of an AP program too often prevents schools from integrating high-impact instructional practices that facilitate genuine learning and meaningful assessment. As the National Research Council has noted, the APs have “failed to keep pace with research on how people learn; instead of listening to lecture, more real learning takes place if students spend more time going into greater depth on fewer topics, allowing them to experience problem-solving, controversies and the subtleties of scholarly investigation.” 

Independent schools like Kehillah empower highly qualified faculty to create meaningful and challenging curriculum that allows students to distinguish themselves through the courses they select. While we appreciate the value of AP courses and the challenge many of them provide, we have looked closely at the potential impact our plan could have on the college application process, and we anticipate the impact to be uniformly positive.

Testimonials and Reflections from Experts on Advanced Placement

“At the end of the day, we encourage students, guidance counselors, and parents to choose together those courses, regardless of title, that have the most rigorous intellectual discovery and exploration as their goal.  We believe such a course load will excite the student as much as it impresses a college, will inspire classmates more than intimidate them, and will ask each student to open her mind more often than she opens an examination book.”

- Robin Mamlet, Former Dean of Admissions, Stanford University 

“’Learning is about having a passion… The threat is that students are so concerned with how they appear to the colleges that they pack in all sorts of AP courses that may not even interest them.’”

- Myra McGovern, Spokeswoman, National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), as quoted by Time Magazine 

“Critics say the looming year-end test creates too much pressure to cover every last topic that might appear on the exam, and doesn’t allow teachers flexibility to zero in on topics of particular interest or relevance.”

– Anne Marie Chaker in Wall Street Journal, “Elite High Schools Drop AP Courses” 

“…Educators are worried that AP… is turning into something it was never meant to be: a kind of alternative high school curriculum for ambitious students that teaches to the test instead of encouraging the best young minds to think more creatively.”

– Claudia Wallis and Carolina A. Miranda in Time Magazine, “How Smart is AP?”

“At Connecticut, we seek candidates who have challenged themselves within the context of their school’s offerings.  How those courses are labeled is unimportant.  That a student has taken a rigorous course load and performed well, is important.”

– Martha C. Merrill, Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid, Connecticut College

“We applaud such efforts to open [up] classroom discussion and learning from a ‘standardized’ curriculum.”

– Deren Finks, Former V.P., Dean of Admissions, Harvey Mudd College

“The case against AP consists mainly of what good teachers know in their bones about education: that students learn best when they can immerse themselves in hands-on work, and that the best learning involves genuine discovery rather than the mere ferreting out of information already hidden away in the teacher’s brain.”

– Bruce G. Hammond, Director of College Counseling, Sandia Prep in Education Week

“If high schools decide that the AP curriculum doesn’t serve them well… then what selective colleges are looking for is some indication of the relative rigor of the classes.” 

– Christoph Guttentag, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Duke University, in Wall Street Journal, “Elite High Schools Drop AP Courses” 

Events

We have two events planned for parents to learn more about our process, engage with our team, and connect with experts in the field.

From AP to KAT – Advanced Study at Kehillah (webinar)

Date: Monday, February 26

Time: 9:00 - 10:00 AM

Hosts: Dr. Roy Danovitch & Ms. Kaylin Liang, Director of College Counseling

Special Guest: Dr. Denise Pope, Stanford Graduate School of Education and Co-Founder of Challenge Success

 

Inspiring Independence: Academic Programming and the Future of Education at Kehillah

Date: Thursday, March 14

Time: March 14 from 7:00 - 8:30 PM

Hosts: Dr. Roy Danovitch & Dr. Dave Weiner, Director of Admission and Enrollment Management

Location: Kehillah MPR

Special Guest: Jonathan Burdick, former Vice Provost for Enrollment at Cornell

Informational Sessions for Students

Our team is also hosting four small-group conversations next week for any 9th or 10th-grade student who is interested in asking questions and learning more about the transition from the Advanced Placement (AP) Program, to Kehillah Advanced Topics (KAT). Students will have the opportunity to connect with Dr. Danovitch, Dr. Weiner, Ms. Kaylin Liang, Ms. Jordana Bischoff, and select AP teachers on any of the dates below:

  • Monday, February 12 during lunch from 12:30 to 1:00 PM 
  • Monday, February 12 after school from 3:15 to 3:45 PM
  • Wednesday, February 14 during lunch from 12:30 to 1:00 PM 
  • Thursday, February 15 after school from 3:15 to 3:45 PM

Questions?

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