BIHS vs. Academic Choice

Archived Q&A and Reviews


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AP Classes - BIHS or AC?

Feb 2016

Our daughter wants to apply to BIHS for her freshman year but we are concerned about what her flexibility will be in taking AP classes. BIHS requires so many courses in its learning community that it doesn't seem that there are many choices, compared to Academic Choice (AC). Can anyone whose teen is at Berkeley High give some sense of what is possible? From what we can tell, doing well on an IB exam is not equivalent to doing well on an AP exam when it comes to applying to college. Thanks!

In terms of getting into college BIHS and AC are pretty equivalent. In terms of credit for classes AP classes are more reliable, though if your child goes for the diploma there are a number of places that will accept it as the equivalent of a year's worth of credit. Last year, BIHS students were admitted to most of the Ivies, USC, UCLA, UCB, and a number of highly competitive liberal arts schools. The same is true of AC students. The more important choice is does your child want more electives (AC), or a more international approach (BIHS). Most of the stronger BIHS students take AP Chem and an AP language as well as taking the IB exams. anon

IB or AC at Berkeley High?

Feb 2012

Going through the BHS process right now, looking at IB and AC. Would appreciate it if you have a child in either program, if you could say a little about:
1) the selection process -- What attracted your student to this program - what helped choose your top pick?
2) Anything you would suggest kids think about - maybe in terms of their own interests or study habits or.. - in selecting IB vs. AC?
3) Comments on workload - we hear IB carries a very heavy load - is that different from AC? how heavy is it?
4) Comments on choice - I know that's what AC promotes - is IB very restrictive in terms of your requirements vs. choosing electives etc.?
Thank you! anon

i have a berkeley international hifpgh school frshman and this is his experience..
1) -- What attracted your student to this program? The IB diploma and the rigorous structure. Although either program would have been fine for him. Pretty much a positive toss up.
2) Anything you would suggest kids think about - maybe in terms of their own intersts.? Yes. If you are intersred in other countries and cultures in some ways ib would be better. In sophomore or junior years they take a class on belief sytems and later a class on economics. So if those topics are of interest then ib is good. Check out bhs catalogue to see choices and lack of choices.
3) Comments on workload? Do not know how heavy ib is compared to ac but do know that in IB, 10th is more than 9th ..... and 11th even harder. In ib, all kids in same grade take same core classes so workload is ramping up for all at same time. In ac there are a couple of core classes, but electives varry a lot so each student may have a different experience. Ac is trying to get more of a family feeling going and trying to have kids be in core groups to boost this feeling.
4) Comments on choice - is IB very restrictive in terms of your requirements vs. choosing electives? Yes. This is why many kids coming from dual imersion choose ac, to get the langauge classes that they want at the right level. Mom of an IB freshman

My daughter is a senior in AC. She has enjoyed AC and has many friends in IB who like it as well. I think she picked AC so she could have more choices in her classes. She has benefited from the AP classes, which have been rigorous and interesting. The quantity of work has, in some cases, exceeded what I remember of the workload in college. There are excellent instructors [mostly] and some very engaging curriculum. First two years of HS the homework was manageable. Junior year was a heavy load, with three AP classes... many hours of homework every night and weekends, too. I hear AC kids get tired of hearing about the ''heavier'' workload in IB. The best person to answer this would be a parent who has had a kid in IB and one in AC, of course some of this may depend on the number of AP classes and whether a kid in IB is going for the IB Diploma. We are looking forward to another four years at BHS, probably in AC. AC parent

1) the selection process -- What attracted your student to this program - what helped choose your top pick?

My son had selected AC but was assigned to IB in his freshman year. He was upset - 'all' his friends were in AC. but it ended up being the best. He had a great 4 years (graduated 2011) and I could not have been happier with the teaching, quality of instruction, depth of the program and community.

2) Anything you would suggest kids think about - maybe in terms of their own interests or study habits or.. - in selecting IB vs. AC?

BIHS/IB totally prepared him for college, no question. Also for public speaking. He did not get the diploma but did write several of the tests and did well, whoch gives him some advanced standing at his college, freeing up space for electives...My daughter was in AC (graduated 2007) and was also well prepared for college.

4) Comments on choice - I know that's what AC promotes - is IB very restrictive in terms of your requirements vs. choosing electives etc.?

There were fewer choices in IB due to the program requriements and some weirdness at BHS with PE etc. but it didn't really pose a problem. satisfied former BHS parent IB class 2011

My daughter is a freshy in IB. First of all, I think both AC and IB are great choices. And remember, you have no guarantee of getting your top choice at any rate. You will have less electives in IB then AC. E.g., I just talked to hr Academic Counselor today, and next year there are no choices at all: math, history, English, Chem, economy, and language (unless you add a zero and/or seventh period). AC has two choices ea. year as I understand it. I think the workload is heavier in IB then AC from what I can tell. Her most demanding subject is latin, her language choice. Workload has not been overwhelming, but this stuff has always been quite easy for her and she knows to do 'do enough' and not get overboard. happy

My daughter, now a senior in IB chose it because she thought she wanted to go to college in Europe. She's now changed her mind about that, and just wants to go to college outside of CA. Both IB and AC are excellent accademic programs. I think IB is harder/more accademic. The work load is huge in IB. Sometimes there aren't enough hours in the day/night to get all the work done. Freshman year was the last time my daughter got straight ''A''s. Even though she describes herself as, and is an ''overachiever,'' many times a ''B+'' was the best grade she could get, no matter how hard she worked, and occationally she got a ''C''. I think about it sometimes, while we're waiting to hear back from colleges. I think her grades would have been better if she had been in AC. Plusses for IB: two of the best/life changing classes that my daughter took in IB were Theory Of Knowledge, and IB Art. More minuses in IB: there is almost no choice in classes, ever. Ok, maybe she got to choose 3 classes in her 4 years, but one of those choices was which science to take. You also have less choice in IB of how many of the classes are college level/upperlevel advanced classes. Junior year was really really hard. I think her freshman year in college may be easier than Jr year in IB. Another negative: in IB there are so many requirements that there is not enough time in the school day to fulfill the 2 year PE requirement. If your child is on a team, or dances 5 hours a week that can fulfill it. My daughter went to the YMCA (at my expense), for 60 hours a semester to get her PE credit. If she had to do it over again she says she might choose AC, but she loves the way IB taught her how to think, and how to write. She recommended that her younger sister choose AC, but her sister, currently in 7th grade, says she's thinking of choosing IB too. IB Parent

I can't speak to AC as my son did IB. IB turned out to be a really good choice for my son. Really rigorous - he worked incredibly hard, especially the last two years, integrated instruction and a strong emphasis on the humanities (that may have been just him). He's a freshman in college now and he is finding that he is very well prepared - better than his colleagues who went to private schools, in many cases and he knows how to work and how to pace his work. He had a 3.94 GPA first semester and is on track for that again. Proud Mom

Those were great answers about choosing AC vs IB last week. This is the only thing I would add. The*reason* there are fewer choices of electives in IB is not that you have a shorter list to choose from. It is because of the huge list of requirements for IB. There is simply no room in a schedule for those extra electives. Junior year is absolutely brutal in IB and yes, probably a lower GPA overall due to the rigorous courses. But the kids who finish in IB do get a great education. However - and this is a big but - the kids who have a ''specialty'' such as the computer genius, the kid who wants to go to med school and wants to take extra science, the kid who wants extra studio art and art history classes - that kid cannot explore those possibilities in IB. Also the kid who struggles a bit with school but who is motivated might really have a hard time flourishing in IB. I mean the kid who can get a B with a lot of work in most classes, and an A in the classes where they do not struggle at all. That last group will do better in AC. In a classical sense, IB can be depended upon to offer a great well-rounded education. But better plan for a sports team or spending $$ at the Y to complete PE if your kid is an IB student. The schedule is so crammed they cannot accomplish this requirement without that, unless they take less foreign language or less science and that is a lousy trade off. AC mom class of 2011

I think its worth correcting a recent posting regarding student's flexibility in class choices in the IB program. My older daughter graduated with the IB diploma two years ago, and my younger one is enrolled now. While IB does have a few additional requirements for the kids who want to pursue the diploma, those who have a strong interest in areas that are part of the curriculum indeed have the opportunity to pursue those. The poster used as an example the student who is interested in going to medical school and taking additional science. Its quite easy to take additional science, and use that as your elective area for the 6th exam needed for the IB Diploma. There is a wealth of information posted on the BIHS web site (you can get to it through the Berkeley High web site) that explains the course progressions for those who are interested. There are some areas that require concentrated time that are diffcult to make work for students that also want to obtain the Diploma, but students should also understand that they can enroll in BIHS and choose to obtain Certificates for specific courses of study, much the same as students in other programs take AP classes and sit for AP exams. All students in BIHS are enrolled in Higher Level English and History, and take the course material to prepare them for those exams, but are not required to take the exams. Similarly, every student in any program in BHS is required to take English and History all four years of their enrollment, so no flexibility is lost in those areas. However, when I see the wonderful stories posted by some of the senior classes in AC I admit to a bit of jealousy as the different approach to learning writing skills that those students had. We are fortunate our kids have such great options available to them; I wish my high school experience had been as rich.


Entering freshman confused about AC vs. IB

Jan - March 2009


My son will begin BHS in the fall and choices regarding small school selection and classes are confusing. He likes the academic choice program because it allows more class choice. I have heard the international program has taken many of the good teachers away from AC and that it is now a better program. I don't know the validity of this.

Also, what about the choices for science and geometry for a freshman. Is there something I should know about these choices? He could test into Honors Geometry, but I hear there are problems with it being too hard and the A students are struggling.

Any suggestions would be helpful, from those who have been through it! Thx

My daughter is in her third year of the BIHS program and really enjoys the excellent teachers and engaging global perspective curriculum. It wasn't her first choice, Academic Choice was, but it has turned out really well for her.

How it compares to Academic Choice in terms of the teaching staff is something I can't speak to but I know that Academic Choice as a whole is a very strong program as well so either of these schools will serve your son well.

I have also heard that Honors Geometry is tough and as I understand it unless your son absolutely LOVES math and has a high aptitude for it any of the Honors level courses are going to be challenging. If your son has an interest in entering a science or math related field later on it might be worth going for Honors Geometry, and then if he needs help he can get tutoring for free at Berkeley High or seek the help from one of the many talented tutors in the area. If he doesn't take Honors Geometry, Ms. Albrecht is an excellent Geometry teacher if he happens to get into her class.

As far as science my daughter took Advanced Bio her Freshman year and although much of the material was a repeat from her middle school (she went to private school) she enjoyed it.

Hope this helps. BIHS Parent

Hi, I am a BHS parent who has been involved in Academic Choice for many years. We have a strong program now in 9th and 10th and are working on curriculum development for non AP courses in 11th and 12th. We don't have much control over which teachers get assigned to which program. For now AC is only really English and History. That may change next year if the 'redesign' gets passed. ( Math, science and language would each become a part of a program or small school).The redesign is an overly ambitious plan with many flaws not the least of which is that instructional minutes per class would be reduced by 22% and if science lab classes do not become double period, science would suffer a 33%-40% loss of instructional minutes.

The Berkeley International High School program is also coming along well though it is more restrictive because there is an extra required course. Poor teachers are found in every part of BHS. Luckily they are outweighed by the ok and good ones.

I would say you can't go wrong with either AC or BIHS.

Things have gotten very controversial at BHS in the small schools. The kids seem to know that small schools are the ''easy'' route. Students in small schools don't have much homework and don't learn much. The proficiency scores are going down each year. Some of the kids like them; others are bored stiff. It is hard to take AP classes from a small school so excelling is difficult. In the words of a small school math teacher, ''We tried to get rid of honors math but the district wouldn't let us.''

If a student signs up in time, and they do not request a small school, then BHS is not allowed to place them in one against their will. There are kids who prefer BIHS and others who prefer AC. BIHS has some great teachers and AC gives a student more choice in electives. Both are decent. Each year, getting good teachers is luck of the draw.

The best thing BHS could do is put in some strong teacher performance review and get rid of some of the dead wood. The kids know who they are. ''Oh, they can't get rid of him he has seniority.'' And there are some great teachers. ---please sign me as parent of a junior who is glad to be in AC

My daughter, a BIHS junior who is an honors math student and has done well in AP classes, has found the BIHS program progressively more challenging each year (not to mention enriching--she's had great teachers, speakers and field trips). Freshman year was definitely the easiest. Beginning in Junior year BIHS students start doing community service hours and start working on an extended essay in addition to their regular course work. My daughter is also pursuing the IB Diploma which requires her to complete certain courses and sit for 6 fairly rigorous exams. I think your daughter will find the program challenging especially if she pursues the IB diploma, but if she does decide to leave BIHS, I've heard that there will a bunch of students from other programs at BHS who will be happy to take her spot. Mom of BIHS Junior

I have two daughters at BHS, a freshman in AC, and a senior in CAS . We have always been very satisfied with both the academic and social aspects of CAS. My daughter has had excellent teachers- passionate, bright, committed, engaged, and available. Her classes are rigorous in their content and expectation. Student and parent support is available and consistent. CAS community is strong- of course this is a benefit of small schools. CAS, like any group that reflects a mix of socio-economic groups, is not perfect, but it overcomes adversity with understanding and respect for all. I hope that my daughter in AC will learn similar values as my CAS daughter has- academic rigor, hard work, respect for others, and commitment to the community in which we live. amy b

Small schools are NOT homogeneous despite the commentary so far in this newsletter and the academics vary according to the teacher as in ANY BHS school program. In his small school, my son took honors option for IMP Math (next year there will be a formally UC-recognized Honors IMP course for 9th graders, had a 12 page research paper in history for NINTH grade, all of his English/History teachers also offered an honors option (more, deeper work assignments) and he took AP English and AP Calculus as a senior (WITHIN the school/did not have to passport out and ALL junior/senior English classes in his school were based on AP English currulum which has resulted in incredible success rates in College Freshman English). He also had to do a research project using primary data as part of his senior year portfolio. He also received amazing internships that furthered his interest in law(including Novartis and a non-profit legal agency - others in his class were in the FACES program at Children's Hospital, etc.). His graduation class had 22% admitted to U.C. (the year before it was 18% and through at least 2007, 98% of students enrolled in college). Another small school requires Advanced Biology for 9th graders (usually not taken till 10th grade) and another requires Anatomy and an extensive senior portfolio to graduate.

I've found alot of the information on BHS small schools in this newsletter is based upon individual ''bad'' experiences or from those that strongly prefer the more known educational philosphies at AC and BIHS. AC and BIHS are fine choices but so are small schools (just realize that different small schools have different philosophies about having alot of course choice or taking classes outside of the small school, about whether AP classes or city college classses or differentiated ''regular'' classes should be promoted, and about the value of internships), so families really need to do their homework and not rely upon ''common'' wisdom. Too many rumors/urban myths are generated at BHS - about the small schools but about the other academic programs as well - both good and bad. DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!!

Next year with the BHS redesign and a leadership grant designed to assist some of the younger small schools, there will be more homogeneity in the academic experience in the various small schools (which will address some of the concerns that have been chronicled here - and yes there HAVE been growing pains). Also the redesign will provide AC and BIHS with more ability to develop further (by bringing in Science and Math as well as the current History/English teachers into these programs as well as into the small schools that do not currently have their own Science/Math teachers) and will provide more personalization and support for students. Karen H.

Editor Note: At this point, the discussion veered away from the original question of AC vs. BIHS and took up the questions of BHS Small Schools and Math and


AC vs. IB choices for entering freshman

Feb 2008


Would like to have feedback on Academic Choice vs. International Bacculaureat as we are about to enter BHS next fall. It looks like AC with 3 electives is a better choice, especially since our child will be wanting math and science. IB looked good and we like the option of studying overseas but I am not sure that 2 electives (except Jr. year) is enough for the courses my child wants to take. Would like to know how rigorous they really are, how is the english and writing programs? are students engaged and challenged? Is one program more challenging than the other? If so, in what ways? Any and all input would be appreciated. in a daze

I don't have direct experience with AC, but have many friends who have children in that program. My child is in IB, and I can say it is developing into an excellent program. The teachers are truly dedicated and are working hard to build a program that works for the full range of students, including those who always saw themselves going to top-end colleges and those who never imagined that was an option.

One of the really great things about the IB program is the integration of the curriculum among history,english,economics and comparative values, and the fact that many of the teachers follow the students through their high school career so they really know each child. This occurs in the core classes. For other classes, including Math, Science and Foreign Language, the AC and IB students share many of the same teachers.

The IB classes are at least as rigorous as the AC classes, and the students have the option of working towards the IB Diploma, which is highly respected at colleges around the world as well as in the US. Some colleges accept the IB diploma as a student's Freshman year requirements (Stanford is one example.)

Students in the IB program can take AP classes (my daughter is taking AP Chemistry as a sophomore this year), although they generally would not take AP classes for the core IB curriculum, which largely focuses on the Humanities. Instead, they take IB Standard Level and Higher Level classes that are approximately equivalent to AP classes.

The IB program includes requirements that the students take a class in the Theory of Knowledge and develop a thesis paper in senior year that is judged by an international panel. I understand the AC program is adopting the thesis requirement as well. IB students who want to qualify for the diploma also perform 150 hours in the areas of creativity, action, and service.

The AC program is probably easier to understand at this point, because it has been around longer, but I believe the academics in both are similar and they both provide great options for our kids.

In short, we are very happy with the IB program and look forward to the next two years.

Please email me if you would like additional information. sandra

Academic Choice was my kid's first choice, but we got the IB program instead. It sounded interesting but has been really underwhelming so far.

The freshman English class is definitely not challenging. Believe it or not, there is no assigned reading--the kids are just supposed to read anything they choose 45 minutes a night. (A book was assigned for reading over last summer, but apparently most kids didn't read it and the teacher has yet to mention it.) So the only literature they discuss is what they read together in class. They've had only a couple of short writing assignments all year, including a ''group essay'' where students were assigned to a small group and each kid wrote one paragraph or so. (The first semester final was a group project, too.) Global Studies has also moved pretty slowly, I think--not much work, though some interesting topics have been discussed.

Also take a look at the junior year offerings in IB--no AP English or history class is offered. BHS parent

Regarding AC vs IB choices at BHS, my son's experience in AC has been positive. He's had competent or excellent teachers, with one exception, during the past two years. I can't compare his experience to that of students in the IB program. You may find the Spring 07 BHS test score data that was presented to the Berkeley School Board on 1/16/08 enlightening:

  Percent of students ''proficient and above'' in English language arts: All of BHS     50.9% AHA            40.3% CAS            41.7% CPA            27.7% SSJE           36.1% IB             64.0% AC             67.0% Percent of students ''proficient and above'' in math: All of BHS     24.2% AHA            12.0% CAS             4.8% CPA             3.6% SSJE            7.1% IB             39.2% AC             36.3% 

This information can also be found on the BUSD website in the 1/16/08 School Board meeting packet. Maureen

I just had to comment that BHS standardized test scores are only one indicator of how well the various programs/small schools are doing in preparing students for ''real world'' academic success. For example, CPA has relatively low CST standardized test scores, but last year, 100% of seniors graduated and 100% completed the A-G requirements for 4-year college. And, of this year's senior class: 1/4 are taking AP Calculus and 1/4 are taking AP English Composition. So, obviously, the CST scores don't necessarily correlate with academic success in ''real world'' measures of graduation rates and college preparedness. CPA Parent

Just a response to the posted test score information -- BHS has extremely poor turnout on the STAR tests, and many students do not take them seriously because they are not high stakes tests, and they often do not correlate with what students are learning. For instance, the math sequence is different in IMP and the state tests do not match it at all. But as mentioned in the post regarding IMP math in CAS and CP Academy, IMP students do just as well as regular math students on the SATs. Annie

I am writing in an effort to put the Berkeley High test scores which were posted in the Feb 08 POT in context. The API scores are obtained from the CST (STAR) Tests which are offered each spring. The state requires that the school offer the exam. The school is graded on the test results but students are not. Last year close to 30 percent of BHS students opted not to take the exam and many of those who did put little effort into the test. It was low stakes for the students and that is reflected in the results. That being said, at 50.9 BHS still scored above the state (~40%) and county (~45%) average in English. Math numbers are a bit more difficult to generate but we still compare favorably.

Here are some numbers I prefer: The class of 2007 had slightly more than 700 students, at least 10% speaking a primary language other than English and 30% qualifying for free or reduced lunch yet 92% of the class planned to attend college after graduation. 474 students from the class of 2007 took at least one SAT and 138 took the ACT. Average BHS SAT scores (553 Critcal Reading, 561 Math, 550 Writing) were higher than both the national (502, 515, 494) and the state average (499, 516, 498). 869 students took AP exams in May 2007. 125 were AP Scholars scoring 3 or higher on 3+ exams. Next year we will start to offer the first IB exams and we expect to have the same impressive results. Janet