What you need to know about the American curriculum

The American or US curriculum is more often referred to as the K-12 system. It stands for kindergarten through Grade 12. It corresponds to a school-starting age of around five years old, where a child starts kindergarten, to approximately 18 years old. The US curriculum has three stages. Grade K to 5 spans the elementary school years; Grades 6 to 8 denotes the middle school years, and finally, Grade 9 to 12 represent the high school years.

Education in the United States of America is the responsibility of the state and local government. Each state within the USA has a Department of Education and different laws governing finance, the hiring of school personnel, students’ attendances in schools and curriculum. The individual states also have the power to dictate the numbers of years of compulsory education. While most states determined the minimum age at 18 years old, some states are more relax and determined mandatory education up to the age of 16 years old.

The US curriculum can be confusing to someone without proper “initiation” into the US system. It does not have an end-of-school examination process where students can sit for an examination to determine their readiness for the next level. Instead, students in the US curriculum leave school with a collection of assessments that demonstrates their abilities for college or work. While some high schools issue a diploma after Grade 12, it is not recognised as a standard qualification across the USA. The students who completed Grade 12 are also given a Grade Point Average (GPA) score. This score is possibly the only thing which provides some fairness to the students as they can use the score to apply for higher learning.

The system renders a multitude of tests on the students. Standardised tests in schools have become a controversy, with students sitting for around 112 standardised tests between kindergarten and 12th grade.

Advanced Placement Programme

The Advanced Placement (AP) Programme in the United States and Canada was created after World War 2 ended. The College Board, a non-profit organisation, runs this programme to offer college-level curricula and examinations to qualified high school students. Through this programme, high school students can gain placement and course credits in American colleges and universities using a high score in their examinations.

The AP curriculum is not a fixed set of examinations. Students can choose from the multitudes of curricula on offer and select the courses which they want to attempt. The College Board creates each AP subject using a panel of experts and college-level educators in the field of study. Not every school can offer the AP Programme though. The high school needs to pass an audit from the College Board and gain approval for the course before it can provide the AP programme. Once approved, the school is AP-registered and listed in the AP Course Ledger.

Advanced Placement Examinations

Students throughout all participating schools in the USA, Canada and international school worldwide take the AP examinations each May. The test is the final step of the year-long AP courses that students took in their last two years of high schools. Most AP exams are a combination of multiple-choice questions and a free-response section, but some are computer-based or portfolio-based.

Interestingly, the exams are not graded based on a fixed process where students rank based on their mastery of the course material. Instead, the grading rubrics and scale of the AP grades are dependent on the students who sat for the examinations. To understand this better, we need to look at the scoring of the AP examinations.

Scoring System

The AP tests are scored on a 1 to 5 scale as follows:

5 – Extremely well-qualified

4 – Well-qualified

3 – Qualified

2 – Possibly Qualified

1 – No Recommendation

Due to this scoring system, nobody except those on the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and The College Board know the raw score of the students taking the AP exams. The scoring is determined by the Chief Reader, who is a college or professor selected by the ETS and The College Board and members of the ETS. Each grade has a cut-off raw score that differs year to year as the members move the cut-off scores for each subject based on the cohort’s overall performance. They also benchmark the participating cohort with the past three years students to determine a fair and accurate scoring for each student.

How AP Affects Students with Aims for Higher Education

The AP examinations are useful for students who aim for higher education in colleges and universities. Through their participation in AP exams, students can prove their abilities to tackle college curricula and hence, accelerate their learning progress. Through the different AP subjects, students train themselves to prepare for higher education in a highly-competitive environment in their high schools. The benefits are usually good performance during the exams and a fast-track to placement in their desired college and universities.

By Zerlina Zhuang

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