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More Washington Co. students took AP exams

Lack of data often prevented school board members from digging deeper into impact of courses and tests

September 06, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • In this Herald-Mail file photo, Clayton Wilcox, right, superintendent of Washington County Public Schools, talks during his first board meeting as School Board President Wayne Ridenour listens. More Washington County Public Schools students took exams last school year for the more rigorous college-prep courses, such as advanced placement classes.
Herald-Mail file photo

More Washington County Public Schools students took exams last school year for the more rigorous college-prep courses, such as advanced placement classes.

But when county Board of Education members Tuesday tried to dig deeper into the impact of taking such courses and exams, school system officials often didn't have the data immediately available to answer their questions. In some cases, it was because the data wasn't tracked at the local level.

In the last school year, the school system had 2,790 enrollments in advanced placement, or AP, and/or International Baccalaureate, or IB, courses, compared with 2,289 enrollments during the 2009-10 school year, according to a presentation at a board meeting Tuesday.

Some students took more than one college-prep course so they would be counted more than once in the enrollment figures.

The number of different students who took an AP and/or IB exam during the last school year increased from 983 to 1,145, according to figures provided by school system officials.

Of the 2,121 exams taken for the more rigorous college-prep courses in the last school year, 997 had passing scores.

Increases in enrollment, the number of students taking the exams and the number of students passing the exams were reported a year earlier as well.

But school board members wanted to know how those increases might correlate to a student's success in class and in college, but the data wasn't immediately available. They also asked how well those students performed in college and how many received college credit for their high school coursework.

Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said the board discussion about the courses and exams was "solid" and would lead to a broader conversation.

Asked after the meeting, Wilcox said he wasn't expecting another presentation to the board about last year's AP and IB data, but that Tuesday's discussion "should drive our conversation in what we expect of ourselves."

During the meeting, Wilcox reiterated some of the questions board members had as well as student board member Abdul Latif's inquiry about whether school system officials had data comparing Washington County to other school systems.

Latif said tests for the college-prep courses were "almost required" because school officials so strongly encourage students to take the exams.

With the increasing number of students taking such exams, the number of passing scores are almost guaranteed to go down, Latif said.

Just taking the more rigorous courses benefits students in college, said Clyde Harrell, director for curriculum and instruction.

Some colleges will give students course credit based on their exam score.

Noting that 57 percent of AP exams taken last school year didn't result in a passing grade, board member Donna Brightman asked if the class schedule was a problem for some students.

AP exams are only given in May, even if the course is yearlong, Harrell said. Many students take AP courses in the fall and have to wait until May to get tested.

Teachers are encouraged to invite students to review sessions before or after school, though attending can be a challenge for some students who are involved in other activities, Harrell said.

"(We) ought not just be held accountable or provide services by the luck of the draw," said Wilcox, referring to students who might not be able to attend course reviews or even have a course review offered.

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