A record high number of students in Maine Township High School District 207 participated in the Advanced Placement program last year, gaining the potential opportunity to get college credit before graduating from high school.
A District 207 report showed that 1,174 students – 17 percent of the district’s enrollment -- took AP classes or exams in 2010-2011, up from 1,054 students, or about 15 percent of the students in the district, the year before.
The Maine Township students also did better on AP exams, which are written and graded by the College Board, on average than students in Illinois and the United States.
In fact, students at and high schools met a district goal of having 80 percent of students who took AP exams receive a grade of three or above on a five-point scale. Students at High School did not fare quite so well, with 56 percent of students earning a score of three or higher.
Many – but not all -- colleges will consider placing students in higher-level classes or even give them credit for scores of three or above, saving them money in the long run.
However, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Barbara Dill-Varga said she is uncomfortable selling the classes with the idea that people will save money on college.
“I’d like to find out what’s really happening,” she said.
With more students taking AP, scores drop
Overall, the district saw some declines in the number of students getting scores of three or above.
“It might be because we’ve opened our doors up more widely, having more non-traditional students taking the exams,” said Dill-Varga. “That is a good thing, but it doesn’t come without certain challenges, helping those students do well on those exams.”
School board member Margaret McGrath suggested at the March school board meeting that maybe not all the students who are now taking AP courses and tests should be.
“If you look at East, there are two courses with more than 10 students where only two of them passed the test,” school board member Margaret McGrath said. “You have growth in West and at South, not the fall off we have at East.”
Part of the issue might be that a higher proportion of students in AP classes at Maine East take the exams than at the other schools, said board president Sean P. Sullivan.
The report also noted that white and Asian students are proportionally overrepresented and Latino and African-American students are underrepresented among those who take AP classes.
More important to take AP class than get good grade
The district is trying to expand access to the AP program by ramping up the level of classes students take early in their high school careers to make sure they are ready for advanced level work.
However, it is less important that students succeed on the AP exam than that they take the class, according to research cited by the College Board. According to that research, the best indicator of a student’s success in college is the academic rigor of the classes he or she took in high school, regardless of whether they excelled in those classes.
The district is looking at a variety of questions to see whether it can improve even more, by looking at its schools’ curriculum to make sure it’s aligned with AP curriculum, how to better prepare students in earlier courses, and whether the students who do better with their course grades also do better on the exam.