AP Capstone

Taylor Johnson, an AP English and speech and debate teacher at Catalina Foothills High School, was chosen to lead the school’s students in the AP Capstone program. 

Starting next school year, Catalina Foothills High School will be adding another facet to its already impressive academic curriculum when students begin enrolling in the Advanced Placement Capstone program — a two course series designed not only to prepare students for college, but to also facilitate overall success and academic curiosity.

According to CFHS Assistant Principal John Moes, the program fits into the school’s existing strategic plan regarding both vertical transfer of information along an academic career, as well as horizontal transfer across different disciplines, both of which he considers a cornerstone of 21st Century education.

“Fundamentally,” he said, “you’re teaching students how to function; not just in an academic sense, but in a professional sense.”

While the capstone program, along with the existing collection of Advanced Placement courses, is generally intended for college-bound students, Moes said the skill set is essential for any students going on to future professional work.

The program is broken down into two different courses: AP Seminar and AP Research. The seminar course will be the first offered to students, while research won’t be available until the 2017-18 school year. Both courses are electives and will be offered as either English electives or social studies electives.

According to the district, the seminar course is a “foundational course” designed to engage students in cross-curricular conversations mimicking complexities of both academic and real-world topics and issues by analyzing divergent perspectives. To do such, students will be required to practice inquiry-based research, analyze a variety of various sources and synthesize information into cogent arguments. By doing so, students will be prepared to create evidence-based opinions and defend them with factual analyses.

Students will also have access to the research course, which allows students to delve into academic topics or regions of interest. The course culminates in an academic thesis paper, presentation, performance or exhibition with an oral defense.

Unlike other AP courses, which require teachers to submit a syllabus, CFHS had to apply for the AP Capstone program. Part of the application is having a teacher capable and willing to attend training by College Board, the non-profit behind the AP program.

Though nearly 10 teachers applied, the high school chose AP English and speech and debate teacher Taylor Johnson to be the pioneering educator behind the program. Johnson said she first heard about Capstone several years ago, while scoring AP English language exams.

“I was very excited to hear that AP was moving in the direction of valuing student portfolio work developed within the classroom setting,” said Johnson. “Since timed writing is often not an accurate picture of everything competent students are capable of, it was encouraging to see that a course was in the works that would reward students for their crafted writing, revision and research.”

Though she did admit the course would be difficult, Johnson said she is drawn to the challenge of such a rigorous undertaking. 

The challenge won’t fall solely on her shoulders, though, and Johnson said the class will offer huge payoffs of all the hard work. 

“For students,” she said, “the key advantage will be the level of choice, innovation and customization that the course will offer them as they explore a topic of deep personal interest.  Furthermore, the opportunity to write what is essentially a dissertation during the second year of the course will attract astute, rigorously-minded learners with a passion for verbal and oral expression, and the level of preparation such experiences will afford them in developing greater readiness for college is truly unparalleled.”

While the program will offer undeniable benefits for college-bound students, AP Capstone will hugely benefit any student who completes it. Students who complete AP Seminar and AP Research with scores of 3 or higher and receive scores of 3 or higher on four AP exams in subjects of their choosing will receive the AP Capstone Diploma. Students who earn scores of 3 or higher on the two AP Capstone exams but do not take or earn qualifying scores on four AP exams will receive the “AP Seminar and Research Certificate.”

Last year, CFHS students took 1,300 AP tests, 932 of which received passing scores. According to Moes, those figures are fairly consistent every year.

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