SpringBoard? More like Spring-bored!


Colvin Bowen

Reporter Lucy Arnold uses multiple opinions to prove her point of the irrelevance of Springboard.

Lucy Arnold, Reporter

Every day, the bell rings and many students head to English class with the knowledge that a fat workbook full of gridded worksheets and fill in the blank activities is waiting for them.  Most of them face this reality with grim resolution; they will “get through it,” putting in as little effort as possible to get the grade that they want. As the students settle into their seats and hear the lesson plan for the day, they quietly resign to their given task but secretly wonder if their educations could be better.

This is the reality of the Springboard curriculum, a College Board “Pre-Advanced Placement (AP)” program designed to align with common core standards. Increasingly, students and teachers at PHS are questioning whether the Springboard route is best for them as writing test scores fall and students become more withdrawn from their learning. Though Springboard has some benefits, many students and teachers believe that it is detrimental to PHS students’ education.

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Like any other program, Springboard has its strengths and weaknesses. “The strengths are that it provides options for differentiated instruction, guidance, support for new teachers, and a wide variety of activities addressing the same concept.” said Kimberly Napier, AP Language and Composition and 11th grade English teacher.

Other advantages include that the curriculum is accessible to students of weaker English ability, is standardized across the country, and provides clear rubrics to explain the expectations for high-quality work.

Unfortunately, the benefits of Springboard stop there.

Although the curriculum has noble intentions, it has fallen short of its purposes of allowing teachers to reach students of different ability levels and preparing students for college and AP-level coursework. “Springboard trains but doesn’t teach.” said Napier. “It can provide a foundation but focuses too much on the spacial intelligence and not enough on the linguistic, existential, and logical mathematical intelligence.”

Napier has been teaching in this district for six years and taught at Tacoma Community College (TCC) for five of those years. In that time she has noticed an important trend. “Students coming to TCC from Springboard districts lack the depth and connections of critical thinking, reading, and writing. This is because the program encourages development at the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy and only peripherally addresses the upper level of evaluation, connection, and synthesis.” For this reason, Napier feels that there is no such thing as “Pre-AP.” There is only AP and non-AP.

This disparity is only too visible in my AP Language and Composition class. Having taken Springboard English in our freshman and sophomore years, my classmates and I are overjoyed to learn at a deeper and more advanced level, yet we are becoming increasingly frustrated as we find that we are ill-equipped to do so. For instance, when our teacher first mentioned the three major rhetorical appeals of ethos, logos, and pathos, no student was able to give more than a one-word definition of each appeal, even though Springboard had “taught” us these appeals since middle school. We were amazed when we saw that an entire whiteboard could be filled with information that we had not learned on the subject.

What is Springboard doing wrong if it teaches these things every year?

For one, it only scratches the surface of major concepts and completely omits others.

“In spite of revisions or improvements made over the past few years, there remain significant lapses in certain areas of instruction, such as grammar, the focus on diction, and concepts like the appeals of rhetoric.” Napier said.

Napier also explained that students are filling in too many charts, reading too many excerpts from literary canon, answering too many lower-order thinking questions, watching too many film clips, and not reading enough books on their own. All of this “busy-work” ensures that students become very skilled at filling in boxes and blanks without actually learning anything.

Another problem is that when discussing Springboard, the word “claustrophobic” comes up a lot. The curriculum is overly structured to the point that it gives both student and teacher very little room to breathe. “My opinion is that Springboard deprives students of the right to create their own thoughts. It uses repetitive methods that force students to think inside a claustrophobic box.” said senior Simone Bogar.

It only scratches the surface of major concepts and completely omits others.”

— Lucy Arnold

In my own experience, I have found that much of my most productive learning occurs during spur-of-the-moment, spontaneous discussions in which the teacher and students constantly question and answer each other until they have reached the true essence of the topic. Springboard gives little to no room for such discussions, favoring pre-prepared lesson plans that the teacher “administers” to the class.

I have also found that filling in charts does little to facilitate the writing process; good writing is the result of a messy process that is unique to each individual and too complex to occur inside a box.  I believe that students should be guided in discovering their own specific writing process rather than being forced to conform to the one prescribed by a standardized curriculum. I have seen students’ eyes light up when they find their own writing voice and create a piece that they are proud of because it is truly theirs.  When this happens, they become more engaged in their learning and more eager to express their thoughts on and off paper. Springboard deprives them of this joy by imposing too much structure on their thinking. It dumbs them down by spoon-feeding them strategies that provide an easy way to a grade and lead them away from their own distinct styles.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that students and teachers dislike the curriculum. In my three years at Peninsula, I have never met a student who liked Springboard. Some of the most common complaints are that the curriculum oversimplifies things and is too rigid and superficial.

“Springboard is too repetitive and boring.” said junior Mackenzie Mills. “If it were a cookie,  it would be the one with raisins instead of chocolate chips.”

In short, Springboard is a disservice to students. By “playing to the lowest common denominator”, it hinders students’ academic and intellectual growth and creates a disconnect between students and their English education. The students don’t take the curriculum seriously because it is so monotonous and easy. They are in it only for the grade, not for the learning, because the learning itself is not exciting and inspiring. Is this really an attitude that we want to see in the future generation? Shouldn’t learning be fun? Shouldn’t teachers have the choice to teach at the levels they are capable of? Don’t students deserve a more active role in their educations? I know that high school students will rise to the occasion if given more advanced coursework. We deserve the chance to learn at a deeper level and to expand our intellectual capacities beyond the minimum dictated by the state. We have outgrown Springboard and deserve the choice to leave it behind and open a new, more stimulating chapter in our scholastic careers. If this happens, students will be more likely to strive for knowledge and success, which is what education is supposed to be about.