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Efforts to expand access to and success of the Evanston Township High School’s Advance Placement (AP) program seem to be working, so much so that ETHS is becoming a national leader and mentor.

A report presented at the Feb. 23 District 202 School Board meeting shows that student participation in AP classes has increased, students are scoring higher on the exams and AP courses include a more diverse student population than ever before.

Between 2011 and 2014, the number of students taking an AP exam increased by 30% (880 vs. 681). All student groups increased, with black/African American students increasing by 35%, Hispanic/Latino students increasing by 78% and White students increasing by 19%. Student success in the AP program also increased during that time, with the number of exam scores of 3 or higher increasing by 47% (1480 vs 1008). All student groups increased with Black/African American students increasing by 98%, Hispanic/Latino students increasing by 116% and White students increasing by 31%. Nationally, one in five students earn a 3 or better. At ETHS, one in two earns a 3 or better.

“This is due to an indefatigable focus on results,” said Pete Bavis, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction.

In 2011, the ETHS Board adopted an Equity and Excellence Statement that focused on raising achievement for all students and eliminating the “racial predictability of achievement.” The Board also adopted AP enrollment and success on AP exams as a target.

AP Coursework is a Predictor of Future Success

Studies have shown that even attempting AP course work is a predictor of college success, even more than other predictors like grade point average. A 1999 U.S. Department of Education study found that, “the impact of a high school curriculum of high academic intensity and quality on degree completion is far more pronounced – and positively – for African American and Latino students than any other pre-college indicator of academic resources. The impact for African American and Latino students is also much greater than it is for White students.”

At ETHS, 93% of students who complete at least one AP course enroll in college the fall immediately following graduation, according to the report.

“Even if students don’t go to college, AP benefits them,” said Board Vice President Pat Savage- Williams. Beth Arey, College and Career Coordinator, concurred, saying that even attempting an AP class teaches students to “stay the course” and gives them another tool in life.

National Exposure

ETHS is one of seven initial participating schools in the College Board’s Advanced Placement program. “ETHS has held a prominent place in the national spotlight with regard to challenging students and preparing them for the next level,” states the report given to the Board. “Today, ETHS holds a prominent place once again in the national spotlight with regard to AP for the same reason, but primarily for its role in stretching all students to reach their full potential, particularly our students of color.” ETHS has worked with districts around the country, giving presentations at various conferences and also working as a mentor to some, sharing the secrets of their success. Other districts express that they can get students into AP classes, but student success in the class is more difficult to achieve. ETHS as also been the subject of several national articles on AP and closing the achievement gap, including an article co-authored by Dr. Bavis, Ms. Arey and Dale Leibforth, AP Recruitment and Retention Manager, which will be published this summer.

Looking Ahead

While the AP program has grown tremendously over the past few years, ETHS is looking at areas where further strides can be made. AP science and math are areas to work toward “expanding access and success” and greater gender parity. ETHS is partnering with Northwestern niversity to provide tutoring in these areas. Gender differences in science courses parallel national trends. Women are “extremely underrepresented” in the areas of engineering, advanced math and physical sciences. The report said Women in STEM (WiSTEM) was created to address issues relevant to women in all STEM courses and is supported by Society for Women Engineers and Mentorship Opportunities for Research and Engagement (MORE) at ETHS. Research has shown that girls are drawn to professions that show a positive impact on society. WiSTEM events aim to show a positive societal impact in physical science and engineering in such activities as designing prosthetic limbs or new drug therapies. In its second year of existence, WiSTEM has increased participation more than 10 fold.

“This is exactly what we should be doing,” said Board member Jonathan Baum. The AP program “doesn’t pit excellence and equity against each other. This should be the model for everything we should do here.”

“We are breaking the mold of what AP means,” said Board member Doug Holt.