Something Doesn’t Add Up: The AP Precalculus Controversy

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Issue 16, Volume 113

By Ankita Saha 

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Recently, Stuyvesant announced that AP Precalculus will be mandated for all juniors starting in the fall semester, replacing both Stuyvesant’s regular and honors precalculus courses. Stuyvesant acquired this new course through the College Board’s pilot program. Since the announcement, the math department has made it clear that the AP Precalculus course will be slightly easier than both the current core precalculus class and the honors one. Even so, it is daunting to be expected to take an AP exam at the end of the year, especially when there is no prior knowledge of what the course will entail.

Many students expressed that while they dread taking the AP exam, they are relieved to hear that the new course will be less challenging. Sophomore Olivia Dogan is currently taking the normal Stuyvesant precalculus course since she took geometry in middle school, and shared that she is glad that future students will not have to face the stress that she grapples with in the class. “Being among the last group of kids taking the course, it makes you feel lighter to know that the workload is being lessened and that other kids in the [next] grade won’t have to stress over it like I did,” Dogan shared. “I still appreciate getting the chance to grow from my struggles with the class. It made me more resilient. And having made it this far, I feel like you can do just about anything—the class is pretty hard.”

For Dogan, the current precalculus course was a steep learning curve, as it introduced difficult aspects of mathematics at a fast pace. “We sped through the coursework. It was a new unit almost every single day; it was insane. I heard from people that precalculus was going to be a lot harder than Algebra 2, but I didn’t take it seriously. It was a big jump,” Dogan said.

Other students appreciate the opportunities that AP Precalculus has to offer. Sophomore Raaita Anwar expressed that with the new AP Precalculus course being easier, it will allow students to transition into taking APs if they haven’t already done so and diversify their educational experiences. “I think AP Precalculus is a valuable experience for some Stuy students because many students don’t take APs [until] their junior year, so this is a way for them to delve into an AP,” Anwar said.

However, as students consider the benefits of AP Precalculus, they also have concerns and questions about it. As this AP is mandated for all juniors next year with the exception of those who have already taken precalculus, many are concerned about how examination fees will operate. Sophomore Ibtida Khurshed asserted that paying a fee for a mandatory course isn’t fair. “Students shouldn’t have to pay since the school is forcing it. [...] Either way, it should at least be free,” Khurshed expressed. “Some people don’t even want to take the AP and they can’t afford to pay money for it, so people should only pay money for APs that they’re choosing for themselves.” However, Assistant Principal of Mathematics Eric Smith stated that financial aid will function the same as with any other AP; students can apply for fee waivers from the New York City Department of Education, but none are guaranteed. 

Smith clarified some aspects of AP Precalculus that students were concerned about. “We are not making huge adjustments to our current Precalculus course,” Smith stated in an e-mail interview. “While we will certainly address all of the content from the College Board’s proposed course outline, we will cover many more units and topics.” He also explained that AP Precalculus will meet the ample parent requests for new AP classes. “Students and families have been asking for additional AP courses for a long time. The creation of this new AP course by the College Board made this manageable for us,” Smith said.

Many students do not mind the implementation of AP Precalculus since it will end up being their normal junior-year math class anyway. “I’m kind of neutral about it in the end because [the administration is] gonna make us take it anyway,” sophomore Min Hollweck expressed. “It’s good because it’s supposed to be easier, and you can just have another AP if you care about that.”

At the end of the day, AP Precalculus will be a new learning experience for everybody involved. Whether students encounter more difficulties or benefits in the course, there will inevitably be a learning curve in its integration into the standard Stuyvesant curriculum. However, the one definite aspect of this precalculus development is that students will learn to navigate the journey together—an experience far more meaningful than just getting a five on the AP exam. Though who says you can’t have both?