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Thursday, July 6, 2017 12:09 am

AP enrollment skyrockets

District 186’s push pays off

During a summer preparatory class, Kailah Orr, far right, prepares students at Southeast High School for advanced placement courses they’re scheduled to take during the upcoming academic year.
PHOTO BY BRUCE RUSHTON

 

Enrollment in advanced placement courses has surged in Springfield high schools.

Last year, 745 students in Springfield School District 186’s three high schools enrolled in AP courses that can earn them college credit if they score sufficiently high on spring exams, the district says. Next fall, 1,053 students are scheduled to take AP classes.

It’s an increase of more than 40 percent, and it comes after a push by the district this past spring to enroll more students in college-level AP courses.

The district last year retained Equal Opportunity Schools, a Seattle-based nonprofit that aims to identify kids, particularly minorities, who are capable of rigorous coursework but are not enrolled in AP classes and get them signed up for such classes. The district says that 203 students, or roughly two-thirds of the increase in AP enrollment, were identified with the help of EOS. After being targeted by EOS, the students were recruited and encouraged to take the courses that can give them a head start on college.

“I think it’s exceeded what we thought would happen,” said Superintendent Jennifer Gill. “I’ve been very proud of the schools saying, ‘We are going to really take this seriously.’”

Gill has acknowledged that just a few months ago it was difficult to read statistics that showed lackluster enrollment in AP courses as well as scores on AP tests that fell below national averages (“Reaching high,” Feb. 16). The district doesn’t yet have scores for AP tests taken this past spring, but Gill said that kids benefit even if they don’t score highly enough on tests to earn college credit. It can be better, she said, for a student to take tough classes and earn B’s than take easy ones and get A’s. Students who’ve been through AP courses get a taste of what they’ll see in college, she said.

“What you want to see is growth,” Gill said.

This summer, 31 students from Springfield High School and Southeast High School scheduled to take advanced placement classes next fall have enrolled in pre-AP classes at Southeast designed to prepare them for the upcoming academic year. Last week, the students were creating and writing up plans to accomplish such goals as rescuing stray dogs and improving health care. None of them had to be there, but they chose school over more typical summertime pursuits.

“If you don’t have a thesis, you need to stop – pause,” teacher Kailah Orr told the class. “Come up with the ideas, guys. Let’s go.”

The pre-AP classes weren’t the brainchild of central administrators, Gill said. Rather, the summer classes were proposed and created by staffs at Lanphier and Southeast high schools.

“I’m so energized by the fact that these schools have come up with these ideas on their own,” Gill said.

Alyssa Ashford, who will be a senior at Southeast next fall and has already taken AP courses in human geography and American history, will be taking AP courses in literature and government when school starts in earnest.

“I don’t have to be here,” Ashford said during a morning break from Orr’s class. “I just want to build my skills for AP. … I want to be prepared for college, so I know what to expect.”

Ashford says she thinks that interest in AP courses has grown at Southeast. She figures that freshmen and sophomores are smarter than they used to be.

“Back when I was a freshman, they probably figured it was too hard,” Ashford said.

Gill said that the district plans to start talking to kids early on about the importance of academically challenging classes so that they can be prepared for AP courses when they reach high school.

“We have been going down into the middle schools and beginning that conversation,” Gill said. “We always do a good job of talking to the eighth graders, but we have to move down into the seventh and sixth graders.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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