Issue 5 Editorial: Support the student’s choice of academic rigor

Head Editorial Board

With 28 advanced placement (AP) classes, three full International Baccalaureate (IB) pathways and multiple competition-based clubs, there’s no doubt Walnut is an academically rigorous school. In 2022, 670 students took 1,426 AP tests, so it’s also clear that many are taking full advantage of these opportunities. 

However, we at The Hoofprint believe there is a difference between students challenging themselves and overloading their schedules until they can’t maintain a healthy work-life balance. In an environment in which academic rigor is normalized and encouraged, the latter is unfortunately common; students can feel pressured by their friends, family or themselves to take harder classes. After Walnut’s recent decision to remove English 4 Honors from the course list, forcing current juniors to choose between Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum (ERWC) — regular English — and AP Literature and Composition for next year, there is now an additional push for students to take college-level courses. 

According to Instructional Dean Nelson Chen, this decision was made because English 4 Honors students were already completing work at an AP level. He also said that taking AP classes will ensure students stay competitive now that other standardized tests like the SAT or ACT hold less weight in many colleges’ admissions process. 

“I believe our students are resilient and have the grit to achieve what they set their minds to,” Chen said. “We also have incredible teachers that will help support students at all levels.” 

The decision to get rid of English 4 Honors makes sense in light of the circumstances, but it also shows the prevalent academic pressure at Walnut. If honors classes are already being taught at a college level, it’s reasonable that students get the boost of taking an AP class on their transcripts. However, this also raises the question why there’s no intermediate curriculum between regular and AP in the first place. There’s nothing wrong with taking hard classes — in fact, it should be encouraged if the student is prepared — but there’s also a wide gap in the difficulty level between a college preparatory English class and AP English Literature.

School is synonymous with learning, and academics is obviously an important aspect of education. Not all students want or have enough time in their schedule for AP-level classes — which have different competencies than honors classes because of CollegeBoard’s unique requirements — and Walnut should find a middle ground to support all levels of students in their academic journey.