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Over the past 15 years, the percentage of the Evanston Township High School student body taking one or more Advanced Placement (AP) courses has more than doubled, as has the number of exams taken, according to a report presented to the District 202 School Board on Feb. 8 by Assistant Superintendent Laura Cooper and Associate Principal Peter Bavis.

“Advanced Placement is a critical element to improve student achievement for all students and particularly for subgroups that have not yet achieved at a high level,” said Dr. Cooper. “Both research and the results of comparable high schools make a compelling argument for expanding AP,” she said.

According to information presented with the report, this expansion in course enrollment and test-taking has had a varied impact on scores over the time period.

In two different years – 1997 and 2007 – the highest percentage of students (82 percent) received a 3 (considered passing) or more on a five-point scale. In 1997, 11.8 percent of student took AP tests, and in 2007, 17.3 percent of students took AP tests. In the last two years, though, there has been a drop in the percentage of students receiving a passing grade (78 percent in 2008 and 72 percent in 2009), while the percentage of students taking the tests increased (from 17.3 percent of students in 2007 to 21.2 percent of students in 2009).

However, the past two years’ scores are still either higher or essentially equal to percentages in some earlier years when a much smaller percentage of students were test-takers, according to the report. For example, in 1995, 11.2 percent of students took AP tests and 78 percent received a passing grade or better and in 1999, 12.8 percent of students took AP tests and 73 percent received a passing grade or better.

“Because of our dual focus on equity and excellence, we have also been tracking the enrollment by race/ethnic group in AP classes,” Dr. Cooper said.

She said that since the 2005-06 school year, the percentage of black students in AP classes has doubled (from 6.9 percent to 13.7 percent) and the percentage of Hispanic students has also risen (from 4.4 percent to 5.3 percent).

Looking at seniors, “which is when most students take AP classes,” said Dr. Cooper, 35 percent of black seniors are taking AP classes this year compared to 20 percent in the 2006-07 school year; 41 percent of Hispanic seniors are taking AP classes this year compared to 21 percent in 2006-07. A significant majority (75 percent) of white seniors are taking AP classes, a figure that has remained more or less the same since 2006-07.

Dr. Cooper presented research that, she said, “argues for increasing enrollment in AP courses and ensuring that as many students as possible take at least one AP course.” Some of the findings indicate that students who take an AP class, even if they do not pass the exam, do better in college than students who do not take AP classes. This was true even when the non-AP enrollees had similar GPAs and SAT/ACT scores as the AP enrollees. (See sidebar)

She also cited examples of high schools that are similar to ETHS in terms of racial and economic diversity that are “beginning to make progress in improving AP achievement for students of color.” These three are school districts in Rockville Center, N.Y., Montgomery County, Md., and Arlington, Va.

Dr. Cooper cited recent and current initiatives at ETHS that have resulted in the increases in AP enrollment:

• New AP courses, including Statistics and Psychology

• Curriculum alignment

• “Bridge” classes, which provide a summer introduction to a range of AP courses

• Personal recruitment by teachers

• AVID connection.

“We’ve been removing barriers to enrollment,” Dr. Cooper said. “There were situations where there was a more laborious procedure to be included (in an AP class). We’ve tried to simplify that,” she added.

Mr. Bavis reviewed some of the future plans to continue the increase in enrollment while at the same time maintaining and improving AP test results.

“We need to expand our message about effective effort to all students,” Mr. Bavis said. “It’s not just (for) struggling students.”

In additon, Mr. Bavis said that course descriptions needed to be revised to focus on the work required and that AM Support time should be used for AP student study groups. He also said that AP training would be extended to teacher of “pre-AP” classes, summer school supports would be expanded, and the District’s Beyond Diversity Training will be extended to AP teachers to expand “culturally relevant pedagogical practices.”

Studies Find Value in Expanding AP Enrolment

D202 administrators cited three studies that find value in expanding student enrolment in AP classes:  Bowen, WG, Chingos, MM and McPherson, MS. (2009) “Crossing the Finishing Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities.” Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.  Hargrove, L. Godin, D. & Dodd, B. (2007) “College Outcomes and the AP Experience: Does the AP Grade ‘2’ Matter?” Paper presentation at American Educational Research Association, April 2007, Chicago, IL  Keng, L., & Dodd, B. (2007) “An Investigation of College Performance of AP and non-AP Student Groups.” Paper presentation at American Education Research Association, April 2007, Chicago, IL