AP classes at risk of closing

February 23, 2023


Photo by Sierra Uribe

El Rancho High, a school that emphasizes optimizing academic and career opportunities, has some AP classes with low enrollment and some that are at risk of closing. The school has more than 2,000 students and even with the school’s large student population and the resources to provide advanced courses, this issue has become increasingly apparent. 


The school offers IB and AP courses in which students take rigorous coursework and can potentially obtain college credit. The purpose of high-level classes is to help students receive an advantage to a strong education. 


There are 12 AP courses for students to take, but half of the courses only have a singular class period in which a student can take the class. 


In a regular college prep class most students take, the typical class size is around 40 students. But an AP class at El Rancho usually does not contain as many students.


AP English Literature has only two class periods for senior students. It is taught by Mrs. Collene Valle and Mrs. Mandy Jepsen; their class periods have a low enrollment with less than 20 students in each class–even though the senior class has more than 500 students.


The low enrollment in El Rancho’s AP Lit classes has left ERWC classes overcrowded. For a senior to graduate, they must take English all four years of high school, meaning that every senior must take English–with AP Lit classes having less than 40 students it leaves ERWC classes to be overfilled. 


According to Mrs. Valle, “Many of our students…think they are prepared for AP Lit because they have an A in 11 [English] CP…so when they came to AP Lit they really aren’t anticipating all the work or the level that they need to be at, in order to successfully complete [AP Lit]…It’s difficult for them and they end up dropping, so then my numbers drop, which absolutely hurts other teachers.” 


AP Literature can be a hard class for many students to take and pass. The test has a 60% pass rate of 3 or higher. This low number and difficulty that surrounds the class may be very discouraging for students to be motivated to take the class. 


AP Literature classes will need more interest for the upcoming school year–from the class of 2024–to stay open. This process goes for any AP class but is certainly necessary for AP Lit because of their class’ low-class sizes for the 2022-2023 school year. 


The idea of closing AP classes is concerning. AP Government and Politics are one of the classes that are at risk. The class has only one period that contains fewer than 20 students. If the class does not get enough interest from current juniors who want to sign up for the upcoming school year, then the class will cease to continue. 


This problem isn’t new at El Rancho. Most recently, the AP Physics course closed and is no longer available for students to take. Multiple factors can contribute to this, but mainly due to the lack of student interest. 


Senior Natalie Avalos is one of the students that were affected by the class’s closure. She said, “I’m planning to major in engineering. One of the classes I wanted to take was AP Physics, but since that was canceled last minute this year, I had to resort to taking it at Rio Hondo.” 


Due to the closure, she had to find an outside resource to take a college-level course, in this case, Physics. Until students show interest in the class, it will most likely continue to be unavailable for students to take. 


Avalos believes that this is apparent due to a lack of readiness. “I feel like students aren’t very well prepared to take AP classes and most of them do drop in like the first week,” Avalos said. 


Another science-related AP class that has been closed is AP Environmental Science. The class has not been offered at El Rancho for more than seven years. It used to be taught by Mr. Oscar Rivas, who now teaches Biology and Marine Biology. 


The class did not have enough student interest, nor did it have the results the school had hoped for. “I was told that the numbers weren’t there and that’s usually what happens,” said Rivas. 


AP Environmental Science is a difficult class for students to take and to do well they must be willing to do the work. The course has around a 50% pass rate for a 3 or higher on the exam. Rivas believes that the class should be offered again at El Rancho. “As long as the students understand that it’s not the easiest test to pass and you need to be well versed in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, all the sciences.”


The class is hard and requires much preparation. Even though the class requires much of a student, taking AP classes is extremely important for a student to take. 


“It’s just a lot…If the students are willing to do it, absolutely would be a good thing [to have AP Environmental Science offered again].” Rivas said. 


AP Science classes are an essential component for a student interested in a STEM pathway; these classes provide a student with many resources and opportunities to receive a higher level and more challenging education. Another class that can be stopped from being offered is AP Chemistry. Every year they must recruit students to take the class, and if there is not enough student interest then the class will not be available for those students interested in STEM to take. 


Senior Miranda Gonzalez has taken more than nine AP classes at El Rancho. She believes that students should take AP courses. “I think that students get discouraged and think that they have to be super smart to be in them. They really don’t. Being in AP just means better time management with my experience.” 


There are plentiful AP courses available for students to take and through the example of Gonzalez, a student can enrich their workload by taking higher-level courses. Without students who are motivated to take the courses, it creates a lack of want from the students to fill up the classes to keep the classes open.  


El Rancho High’s Assistant Principal of Curriculum, Ms. Shirely Lugo, says “I think we do have quite a variety of classes and the only reason we don’t have more of a variety is again student interest. If we had more participation in the classes, we would see the need to create additional courses. But right now some of the AP courses are so small that we don’t offer them every year.”


It is apparent that the lack of participation is affecting the AP courses available at El Rancho. The school has provided other courses in the past but has closed due to the absence of student interest. 


“If they signed up to take the AP courses or if there was interest from anybody saying, you know what, we like a certain AP…whatever the classes they’d want and we could get however many students to fill a class and to take the test. A lot of times our students sign up, they take the course and then they don’t want to take the test,” says Lugo. 


Any AP class that a student takes, requires them to take an exam at the end of the year to gain the college credit that they worked for. They must receive a three or higher to pass the exam. 


“I think our students are super bright and have a lot of potential, but maybe they don’t understand what an AP course requires and are hearing other students who may not recommend it,” said Lugo. The influence a student has on another student can heavily affect their decisions on what class they take. Many students will take the word of a peer before finding out for themselves. 


To many, the concerns of students taking an AP class falls on their willingness to take the exam that is encouraged for the class. Although the percentages are low for the passing rate, they still have the chance of passing. 


“Even if they weren’t prepared to pass the AP test, they have learned many skills that they could use in college that will absolutely help them,” says Valle. She believes that students taking the challenge of taking a college-level class is more about the skills it teaches one, rather than the exam. 


Gonzalez, who is experienced with AP classes, doesn’t focus as much on the exam but rather on the experience and journey of taking the course. “I’m not the smartest, but AP classes have taught me it’s more about managing your work and [setting aside] time for that class,” Gonzalez said. 


The influence students have on one another will always heavily impact the decisions they make. Many factors can contribute to the reasons why students are not signing up to take AP courses. 


It is imperative that El Rancho responds to this issue. With class sizes of more than 500, it is shocking to many that AP courses have low enrollment, are at risk for closure, and for many courses, are no longer available to take. 


“We’re really going to try and push for next year to incorporate more students, to involve [more advertising]. For our Rising Don night, we’re gonna make sure to have a lot of information for parents about the classes,” said Lugo.

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