AP testtakers increase for CCPS
Panthers’ last-second shot stuns Indians
— Every year around Christmas, Rising Sun High School brings recent graduates back to talk with current students about what it takes to succeed in college.
Last year, several recent graduates talked about the benefits of the Advanced Placement English class they took at Rising Sun. The current group of students was definitely listening, said Anne Gellrich, the school’s principal.
“This year I have four classes of AP English,” she said. “We try to reinforce that if you’re going to college, this is what you need to do to prepare.”
Rising Sun isn’t the only county high school where more and more students are signing up for AP classes. During the AP testing window earlier this month, county students took 1,148 AP tests, nearly double the 606 tests students took in 2009.
The number of students taking the tests has increased too – 675 students took an AP test this year, a nearly 54 percent increase from the 440 students who took a test in 2009.
Although participation is up, at the same time, the number of students scoring a three, four or five on the exams – the minimum score typically needed for college credit – has dropped from
about 67 percent in 2009 to 55 percent in 2015.
But Jeff Lawson, executive director of high school education, noted that while the passing rate as a percentage has gone down, the raw number of students who pass an AP test has increased by about 100 students. But beyond the percentages, Lawson said students benefit from taking AP classes even when they don’t pass the exam because the student is exposed to a more rigorous curriculum.
“It’s important that the students get used to the level of work that’s required out of an AP class. That’s what’s really going to prepare them for college,” he said. “Now, I understand kids come in and they want to earn credits and parents like it because it offsets some tuition down the road for them. But for me, from a pure learning perspective, having that student in there day in and day out is the real benefit.”
And the concentrated effort CCPS has put into selling students on those benefits is one of the reasons the county has seen increased interest in AP tests, Lawson said. CCPS has tried to make parents more aware of all the benefits of AP tests and also do a better job of identifying students who could succeed in these classes, he said. Many principals have also made increasing AP participation part of their school improvement plans, Lawson added.
The system has also made other, more structural changes to encourage AP participation. Three years ago, the school board made a policy change that allowed seniors to take certain AP classes, including AP Government and AP Human Geography, for their 12th grade social studies requirement. And for many years, CCPS has given extra GPA weight for students who take AP classes, Lawson said.
In addition to all the incentives, CCPS also has no strict rules about what students are allowed to take the AP classes, Lawson said.
“We are a community service – that’s what Cecil County Public Schools is and we provide opportunity,” Lawson said. “So if a student comes in and they demonstrate a willingness to take a class of that rigor, most times if we can accommodate them, we will.”
CCPS doesn’t require students to take the AP test but if a student doesn’t take it, their grade for the class is weighted like an honors class instead of an AP class, Lawson said. Though CCPS doesn’t directly provide funding to offset the $92 cost of taking the test, the College Board, which administers the test, provides financial support for students who qualify for Free and Reduced Meals (FARM), he added.
But while college credit may be the most obvious benefit of AP classes, at North East High School, students have one-on-one meetings with their guidance counselors to plan their class schedule and the counselors frequently talk to students about how their career interests might align with the AP classes offered, said David Foye, NEHS principal.
Teachers also play a big part in encouraging participation by going into classrooms to talk about the AP classes they teach. But when it comes to getting students enrolled in AP classes, no one is a better advocate of the classes than the students themselves, who often understand even better than the adults all the benefits they offer, Foye said.
“What we try to do is get our students exposed to college level classes,” he said. “Just because they don’t get a three or four doesn’t mean they didn’t learn something.”
Tylethea and Randy Mathis pose after Tylethea’s graduation from Cecil College on Sunday.