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School Network Uses Project-Based Learning, Not AP Tests, as College Prep

School Network Uses Project-Based Learning, Not AP Tests, as College Prep

In an interview with eSchoolNews.com, a director from the San Diego-based charter school network, High Tech High, explains its success despite its unconventional college prep methods and its disregard for the norm of the AP curriculum.

High Tech High, which has a network of five high schools and eight middle and elementary schools has a 99% rate of students who will continue on to higher education. All the while, the network does not use the typical AP testing program to indicate to universities and colleges its students' success. Instead, it implements project-based learning to showcase student talents and progress.

"The AP is great curriculum but it is more in breadth while we go more into depth. And our students are able to articulate their projects, and colleges and universities tend to get really excited about what the students are working on," said HTH’s director of college advising, Chris White in his interview with eSchoolNews.com.

Rather than taking standardized tests to measure achievement, students must present an exhibit of their final work every quarter of the year.

"The premise behind it all is that when a student is informed that this work is going to be publicly displayed, they’re encouraged to ask themselves, 'Am I proud of this work that will be publicly displayed?' And on top of it, we tell them, 'You’re going to be in a group of your peers describing your work, so you must have a command of that content,'" he said in the interview.

White also says that the college-going culture at HTH is supplemented by Naviance, a college readiness software that he says enables not only the administration to reach more of its students, but also students to get research into higher education done on their own.

English language learners and students with disabilities, he said, also see the benefits of not working in a traditional learning environment dictated by testing.

"[W]e obviously don’t offer APs for the reason that, in a traditional public school, if you pull out all those AP students and put them into separate classes then you’re kind of creating an isolated bubble. And then what kind of statement is that sending to the other students who aren’t in the AP classes?"

By mixing the students together and providing them with autonomy to build their projects, the students become a mixed bunch that don't feel separated through test achievement and therefore more readily believe college can be an option for them.

White says the biggest challenge for students that go on to higher education is adjusting to academic regiments that are not so reliant on project-based learning. Because HTH is aimed to prepare students for the "last years of college" and not just the first year by focusing on more than cognitive skills measured by AP tests and the like, students have some adjusting to make when experiencing the initial transition.

"But they get through it. That’s the feedback we get. They transition fully after the first quarter," he said.

To read more of White's interview with eSchoolNews, click here.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor

05/28/2015

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