February 7, 2007
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
Four years ago, Weaver High School in Hartford was down to offering one or two sections in advanced placement courses. Then the district opened the door to all students who wanted to take one of the courses that can lead to college credit - rather than basing enrollment on teacher recommendations - and enrollment soared.
"Now we have 100 kids taking AP classes," said Weaver's Principal Paul Stringer.
A report released Tuesday by the The College Board shows that state school districts have dramatically increased their enrollment in the vigorous classes that prepare students for a test that can lead to college credit.
In 2006, the number of students taking at least one AP exam increased 6.6 percent over the previous year and the number of exams with passing scores increased 6.4 percent.
Connecticut ranked eighth in the nation for the percentage of 2006 graduates who passed at least one AP course.
The number of low-income black and Hispanic students taking AP courses also rose 28.8 percent in 2006. Hartford, for example, nearly tripled the number of students taking AP courses and almost doubled the number of students passing the exam, while New London schools doubled the number taking the tests and tripled the number passing. New Britain High School also doubled the number of students taking tests and increased the number passing by 67 percent.
"We're the poster child," declared Sharon Locke, interim vice principal at New Britain High School.
Locke attributes the dramatic rise in enrollment and passing scores to a new way that teachers are identifying students for the classes. The state now pays for all sophomores and juniors to take a free Scholastic Aptitude Test - necessary for most college admissions - and teachers are looking at the scores on the tests to see where students have strengths, she said. Then those students are encouraged to enroll in AP classes that correspond to those strengths.
And the teachers put in tremendous effort to make sure their students pass the tests, Locke said. They offer extra help after school and classes on Saturdays and during school vacations. The teachers also make themselves available by e-mail.
"Kids and AP teachers chat on their e-mails at midnight," Locke said. "That's why our numbers are so high, because the teachers are so dedicated."
New Britain offers 13 AP classes - including studio art and music theory - and will increase that to 15 next year. The principal encourages every student to take at least one AP course.
In Middletown, enrollment in AP classes has been steadily increasing, said Robert Fontaine, principal of Middletown High School. "In our building, part of it is our teachers doing a better job in encouraging kids to take the course and take the test," he said. Staff have also worked to dispel the myth that AP classes are only for a small circle of academically gifted students. "The courses are rigorous but we try to avoid them having an elitist feel," Fontaine said.
"To have all groups increase their participation in AP exams while also improving their percentages of passing scores shows true progress in closing the achievement gap," said interim Commissioner of Education George A. Coleman. "Why shouldn't every college-bound student be expected to take at least one AP or other college-level course? We have to hold the same expectations for all students. Families also need to be more actively involved in encouraging young people to take these rigorous courses. The benefits last for years to come."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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