Advancing Girls: Moving Beyond Advanced Placement

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The world is changing, and with it, education. One of the biggest decisions I’ve made in my almost five years as the Head of Lincoln School, an historic all-girls Quaker school in the heart of Providence, Rhode Island, is the choice to discontinue Advanced Placement (AP) classes two years ago. While I recognize that not every school would benefit from making this switch, we are a school where tradition meets innovation—and a part of embracing that binary identity is recognizing when it’s time to eschew history and make it instead.

Looking at the world today, one in which children are taught with Smart Boards instead of chalkboards, in virtual classrooms instead of one-room school houses, it’s clear that education is constantly evolving. In fact, when the AP exams were first implemented in 1955, they stood as a method to help skilled students accrue college credit in high school and earn their bachelor’s degree earlier. But somehow along the way, these tests have come to exemplify what it means to be an intellectual, to dictate how courses are taught, and to determine the path of one’s collegiate experience.

The first school in Providence to move beyond APs, this was a natural progression for us at Lincoln, one that I’m confident will help our students prepare for the complex world that awaits. For an all-girls institution to be the frontrunner with this change makes a clear statement to our students, our community, and dare I say, to the country, that women can, and should, lead the way. 

Our new curriculum has room for a variety of perspectives, emphasizes critical thinking, and allows students to learn with true purpose. We see this play out each and every day in our classrooms and, as the roots take hold, in the remarkable results of that kind of deep, rich learning.

We ask our students: What do you love to learn? What have you always been scared to try? What have you seen in the world that you’d like to know more about? We give them ample opportunities to get messy, wrestle with problems that don’t have easy answers, and embrace the process of failing as a mechanism for learning. With girls and women often suffering from the societal plague of perfectionism, there is such power in students not only thinking outside the lines but erasing them and redrawing them for themselves.

Further opening up our curriculum, we recently shifted to a rotating seven-day schedule to slow down the day, reduce the amount of homework, and give girls space to breathe, enjoy, and reflect. This gives students ample time and opportunity to pursue what is truly meaningful to them. Whether it’s through independent studies, student-led clubs, or in student-centered classes, they can flex their confidence, strengthen their leadership skills, and discover themselves.

Shay Iyer, a senior at Lincoln, recently said, “There’s such a difference between regurgitation of information and innovation based on information. The traditional definition of rigor I’ve experienced at my previous school really revolved around time—how many hours you spent doing homework, how many classes gave you a big packet of work to do for the next week—but here, rigor is about losing yourself in the work. The moment you start enjoying yourself, that’s when you’ve reached the level of academic rigor you should be pursuing your whole life. It should be about passion, and that’s what [moving beyond the AP at] Lincoln is all about.”

Since discontinuing APs, we’ve been able to create classes like Gender & Media, Peace & Conflict, The Physics of Machines, and Language & Power. Students can dig into these subjects in a way that emphasizes depth of investigation, mirroring the interdisciplinary nature of the world and workplace. Instead of teaching history, math, or science, we teach our girls how to research like an archeologist, think like a statistician, or experiment like an epidemiologist.

Girls at NCGS schools are smart, curious, bold, funny, courageous, and capable. But just because they are girls, they have to dig deeper, speak louder, and do more in order to gain equity in the complex society in which we live. Though I know moving beyond the AP is not the right choice for every school community, I believe high school doesn’t have to be a way station on the road to college. It should instead be challenging and engaging in its own right, capitalizing on the staggering amount of social, emotional, and intellectual growth and development that occurs during these crucial years.

If you’d ever like to speak with me directly about our decision to move beyond Advanced Placement or schedule a visit to see this learning firsthand, feel free to reach out to me at headsoffice@lincolnschool.org. I’d love to hear from you!


Suzanne Fogarty, Head of School, Lincoln School

Photo by Warren Jagger


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