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In the 2012-13 school year, 63 percent of Evanston Township High School students in grades 11 and 12 were enrolled in at least one advanced placement (AP) class, a significant jump from the 2006-07 school year, when the number of upperclassmen in AP classes was 40 percent. These and other figures are part of a report  on AP enrollment presented at the June 10 School Board meeting by Dr. Judith Levinson, director of Research, Evaluation and Development at ETHS, and Dale Leibforth, math teacher and Advanced Placement recruitment and retention coordinator.

More minority students take AP classes now than six years ago, according to the report: In 2006-07, 13 percent of black students in grades 11 and 12 were enrolled in one or more AP courses, as compared with 32 percent in 2012-13. Figures showed similar increases for Hispanic students: In 2006-07, 22 percent of Hispanic students in grades 11 and 12 were enrolled in one or more AP courses, as compared with 50 percent in 2012-13. The percentages of white students in grades 11 and 12 taking AP classes during that time jumped from 61 percent to 85 percent, according to the report.

The number of students taking AP exams and the total number of exams taken have also increased over that period – from 526 students taking 1,059 exams  in 2006-07 to 766 students taking 1,800 exams in 2011-12 and to about 950 students taking about 1,900 exams this year, said Mr. Leibforth. The average score on the 1,800 exams taken in 2011 was 3.20, said Dr. Levinson. ETHS offers a total of 26 AP courses each year. Some colleges offer college credit to students who earn a 3 or better on an AP exam.

The school should continue to focus on getting as many students as possible to take AP courses, because that is a “critical element in efforts to improve student achievement for all students,” said Dr. Levinson. She noted that some studies show correlations between taking AP courses and scoring at least a 2 on an AP exam and better college performance, higher four-year graduation rates and higher college GPAs.

Mr. Leibforth described the school’s efforts to recruit students, particularly minority students who might otherwise take such classes, to take AP courses. He said ETHS has added new courses, is aligning the curriculum with the Common Core standards, offers summer “bridge” classes and has personalized recruitment and the ETHS System of Supports. New AP courses include art history, music theory and AP Spanish Language. He also said that, with enhanced supports, “students will eventually be able to sit for the AP World History exam after sophomore year Humanities.

There are three keys in the effort to recruit more students to AP classes, said Mr. Leibforth: awareness, access, and success. The now-annual Pathways to AP forum, student mentoring and professional development all keep the focus on getting as many students as possible into AP courses, he said.

Dr. Levinson said because the College Board is “very concerned about standards and rigor,” they approve each AP syllabus and set the days and times for testing across the country.

Board Comments

Student Board member Russell Fillmore Brady said, “I think it’s fantastic that we’ve increased AP enrollment.” He asked about expanding the number and kinds of courses, saying “There is not a large diversity in AP courses. There is a lot of [AP] math but not so much history. There is [student] interest in AP government and AP economics.”

Dr. Peter Bavis, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said administrators look each year at proposal for new courses but said, “We have to be mindful of all the pieces [such as] the effect on enrollment.” He added there are “few courses left” that the school could offer.

“This is tremendous growth,” said Jonathan Baum. “A lot of it has to do with de-mystifying AP.” He added that the AP classes are “still skewed toward math and science. It’s easier for a student in math and science to have a high GPA than for students in literature, etc.”