Evanston news delivered free to your inbox! 

Data from 2010 to 2015 show that participation, diversity, and grades continue to go up in the Advanced Placement (AP) program at ETHS, winning the school increased national attention for its efforts according to a report prepared by Pete Bavis, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction.

The report, presented to the District 202 School Board at its June 6 meeting, shows that from 2010 to 2015, the number of AP exams taken by ETHS students increased from 1,551 to 2,195, or 42%. While there was a slight down tick between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years, the overall trend also shows the number of exams taken on which a 3 or higher was earned increased from 1,008 to 1,450, or 44%, during the same period. 

In the 2014-15 school year, the number of AP exams with a score of 3 or higher on the 5-point grading scale was higher than the number of AP exams taken by ETHS students in 2010-11, said Dr. Bavis. During the 2014-15 school year, 1,450 exams received a score of 3 or higher; 1,384 AP tests were administered in 2010-11. 

 Nationally, 20% of AP exams are graded a 3 or higher, but at ETHS 58% achieve that grade, said Dr. Bavis.

ETHS has earned national recognition from several sources, said Dr. Bavis, including The American School Board Association, College Board, Minority Student Achievement Network, Education Leadership, PBS News Hour, National Journal, as well as national rankings from U.S. News & World Report, and the Washington Post.

 The percent of students who graduated in four-years who took at least one AP exam increased for students as a whole and also for black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, and white students. The percent of black/African American four-year graduates who took at least one AP exam increased from 31% in 2011 to 51% in 2015; the increase for Hispanic/Latino four-year graduates was from 43% in 2011 to 60%; and the increase for white four-year graduates was from 86% to 92%. 

The percentage of four-year graduates who earned a 3 or higher on an AP exam has also increased during the period 2011 -2015: from 13% to 21% for black/African American students; from 29% to 50% for Hispanic/Latino students; and from 65% to 80% for white students.

Higher percentages of females and males took AP exams during the same period. The percentage of four-year graduates identifying as female who took an AP course increased 14 points (from 55% to 69%) and those identifying as male increased 11 points (from 47% to 58%). 

The accompanying charts show the percentage of 11th and 12th graders, by race, who took an AP exams and who received a score of 3 or higher in the years indicated. Unlike the data cited above, the charts are not limited to students who graduated in four years. 

The Racial Divide

“Historically ETHS had a traditional, limited access AP program,” says a report prepared by Dr. Bavis, “and access to AP courses was constrained through a rigid set of prerequisites and teacher recommendations. As a result, while the percentage of successful AP students was high, participation and diversity in AP courses was low.” 

Apparent successes in the AP program are, “the result of the efforts of our teachers, Board policy, and student mobilization,” said the report, highlighting the 2011 Equity and Excellence Statement that focuses on the District’s “raising achievement for all students while eliminating the racial predictability of achievement.”  ETHS is “intentional in creating programs that provide awareness of what is possible in high school and beyond, structures that support increased access to advanced courses, and opportunities to gain readiness skills and create supports for our students to achieve success, while eliminating barriers.”

The report also says, “There is a strong body of evidence that AP and other rigorous courses attempted by students are predictors of college success, even outranking other predictors like GPA. Over a decade ago, a 1999 U. S. Department of Education study by Clifford Adelman 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.’ (Adelman, 1999)”

Dale Leibforth, AP Success Manager and TeamASAP (Team Access & Success in Advanved Placement) facilitator, told the School Board that the school “continues to address gaps that persist” in AP results but that it is encouraging that “some subgroups are topping Illinois numbers.” Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said that black students taking AP coursework who score a 3 or higher are doing better than the national average.  

Moving Forward

Mr. Leibforth also spoke of a new law signed by Governor Bruce Rauner earlier this year that requires Illinois colleges and universities to give college credit to students who earn scores of 3 or higher on AP Exams starting the 2016-2017 school year. 

“Earning a 3+ on four AP exams can provide a semester’s worth of credit, potentially saving students thousands of dollars in the total cost of attendance at an Illinois public university,” said Dr. Bavis.

Dr. Bavis and Mr. Leibforth also told the Board that AP courses continue to be analyzed to see how student success in them can be improved. “We are examining results of AP courses with low success rates to determine the causal factors, and take steps to address these causes. Each course is unique and has its own set of circumstances. We are examining the AP courses that the largest numbers of students of color enroll in to provide more intentional supports and professional development.”

The District is also increasing AVID training for AP teachers, and will continue to support students through teamASAP and other supports.  “We need to be very intentional in building a pipeline” to AP coursework, said Dr. Bavis, working with District 65 to help prepare students for the rigorous coursework.

Board member Gretchen Livingston asked if in fact work had started with District 65, expanding the AVID program into the middle schools. ETHS Principal Marcus Campbell confirmed that meetings have taken place with District 65 Superintendant Paul Goren and others, research is being done, and the plan will move forward. 

Ms. Livingston also mentioned comments she’s heard in the community, where some believe AP courses serve as a needed challenge and others feel taking too many of the classes “stressed out” students.   
“You have to know your student,” said Dr. Bavis. He pointed out that the results shared in the report did not make any correlation between the number of AP classes taken and a student’s stress level. The bottom line, said Dr. Bavis, is that each student and circumstance is unique and students need to be counseled accordingly both by ETHS staff and the students’ families.

Monique Parsons, Board Vice President, asked if staff was capturing data on those who signed up for an AP course and dropped it. Mr. Leibforth said that a report was run monthly and that he would “love to have a strategic way to know why” kids were not completing AP work. Most who complete the course take the test, but sometimes it is a cost issue, he said. Those who qualify for free and reduced lunch do not have to pay, but the District is looking at barriers to taking the exam. The number of those who take the class and not the exam is low, he said. “We continue to look at those who dropped. The key is to get students supports to be prepared.”

Board member Mark Metz said he had heard in the community that the District was watering down AP courses to increase the appearance of success.  “These are national exams,” said Dr. Witherspoon. “They are not graded locally. An individual school doesn’t decide [the grade].  There are serious safeguards developed by the College Board for quality control.”