Language Barriers: Why freshman should be allowed to take AP language classes

Every year, several hundred Lowell students take an Advanced Placement language class, but none of them are freshmen. This is due to a Lowell policy that prevents freshmen from taking any AP classes, even if they are qualified for them.

This policy is intended to help ease freshmen into Lowell. AP classes are generally harder and more work than regular classes, so the policy is meant to protect freshmen from taking highly demanding classes right from the start. This policy encompasses world language APs. Though students can test into an AP level language, demonstrating that they have the language proficiency for the class, they are still not allowed to take it. So, freshmen who are qualified for AP end up in level-three courses, and have to wait until sophomore year to take the AP. Lowell shouldn’t hold back students who are qualified to take harder courses. People go to school to learn, so people who test into AP classes deserve to take classes at that level, because they will learn the most in those classes. Yet even students who are fluent in a language are prevented from taking AP classes. No exceptions are made for anyone, even native speakers of the language.

Sophomore Sophia Zhang had this experience at Lowell. Zhang moved to San Francisco from China during middle school. She has spoken Mandarin for as long as she can remember, but because of the AP policy, she had to take Chinese 3 Honors in her freshman year instead of AP. Zhang had mixed feelings about Chinese 3H. “I liked it, but it wasn’t really hard and challenging for me,” she said. Zhang wishes that she had the opportunity to take AP Chinese freshmen year. “I’m basically wasting a block in my freshmen year, because I think I’m ready to take AP Chinese instead of 3 Honors,”  she said. According to Zhang, if she had been able to take AP Chinese freshmen year, she would have been able to add choir last year, giving her the opportunity to take more years of it.

Zhang believes that freshmen should have an opportunity to take AP language classes because they are different from other APs. “[Language AP classes] are not like AP Bio and AP Chem, where you need a base during freshman year or sophomore year until you can go to a higher level class. If you can speak a language fluently, if you can write, if you can read you’re good to go,” she said.

Zhang should have been given the opportunity to take AP Chinese freshmen year. Since she lived in China for many years, she is clearly qualified for it. Zhang would not have been overwhelmed by the AP class, because she already had the proficiency she needed for the class freshmen year. This AP policy is intended to help and protect freshmen, but in Zhang’s case, and in many other freshmens’ cases, it didn’t actually help them. It limited them and prevented them from learning as much as they could have.

Spanish teacher Carole Cadoppi, however, thinks that the policy is good for freshmen. Through her experiences teaching AP, she has found that though freshmen may have the proficiency for AP Spanish, they don’t always have the maturity. According to Cadoppi, the complex themes and topics that are covered in AP Spanish are better examined in junior and senior year, when students tend to be more mature. Cadoppi advises freshmen with the language proficiency for AP courses to just wait. “Here at Lowell, some people think that more is better. But it isn’t always better. Sometimes what’s better is doing the right thing at the right time, in the right quantity…so that one has the freedom to develop well, and also feel good about oneself and feel confident,” she said.

Though her argument has merit, people shouldn’t be held back from taking whatever class teaches them the most. Freshmen are allowed to take other advanced language classes, like Spanish 3 Honors, that are typically classes for juniors and seniors. There shouldn’t be a distinction for AP language classes. Zhang, who is currently taking AP Chinese, disagrees with Cadoppi. “In my opinion, I don’t really think you need that much maturity in order to take an AP language class,” she said.

Ultimately, school policies should do what’s best for students. This AP policy does not help freshmen who are qualified for AP classes. For that reason, it should be changed to allow freshmen who test into AP level language courses to take the class. If you have a strong opinion about this issue, contact administration and let them know.