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JCPS Student 'Advanced Placement' Participation Improves, Passing Rates Dip Slightly

Jefferson County Public Schools continues to trend upwards in the number of students participating in Advanced Placement courses and taking the accompanying exams.

In JCPS, about half of the AP tests taken received scores that allow students to earn college credit at many higher education institutions—a perk of the AP course system—but the passing rate dipped this year after several years of gains.JCPS officials say that’s likely because the district has focused on increasing the AP course participation of students, and now it’ll need to focus on matters such as teacher preparation that support learning within those courses.“Kids can’t do well on the test unless they take the class,” says Pam Royster, the district’s college and career ready specialist.

The number of students taking AP exams increased 4.2 percent last school year from 4,952 in 2012 to 5,160 in 2013. The number of tests taken (one student can be enrolled in multiple AP courses and take multiple AP exams) also increased 3.6 percent from 7,762 the previous year to 8,043.But the passing rate decreased by 1.9 percentage points to 47.8 percent in 2013.“We’ve definitely got some work to do to make sure we’re covering the content and we’re going deeply enough for kids to be successful on the test,” Royster says.

Last school year JCPS joined the statewide Advance Kentucky initiative that helps provide training and resources to teachers and schools to increase the number of AP participation. That program has been touted by the state and district as having had a significant impact on AP improvement.Last year, Valley, Moore and Waggener high schools began participating in Advance Kentucky. Fern Creek, Southern and Seneca high schools joined them this year. The program, says Royster, is a multi-year effort to develop teachers and supports, so it could take time to see its impact.As JCPS expands the number of AP courses offered, it’ll also mean growing pains. Many teachers choosing to participate in the College Board’s AP Summer Institute—offered through the University of Louisville—have done so recently, meaning it’s their first time teaching an AP course, Royster says.“They’re really kind of struggling along with the kids,” she says.But that also means JCPS hasn’t seen the full impact of the Advance Kentucky program and other district efforts, she says.Even without the program, JCPS has celebrated some positive AP acknowledgements. Earlier this year, the school district was recognized by the Broad Foundation for improving the AP passing rates of African American students, while many school districts saw drops in scores.Currently, all but one high school—The Academy at Shawnee—offers AP courses.The problem at Shawnee, Royster says, is teacher mobility.“It becomes a little bit of a challenge in our schools where there’s a lot of teacher mobility,” she says. “If your teacher, who has been approved by the College Board, moved to another school then you have to start all over again with another teacher.”Shawnee has offered AP courses in the past, but student turnout has been low. For example six students took six AP exams in 2010 and none of them earned a passing score.Other schools that have struggled with student achievement in the past have also struggled with student participation and success at the AP level, but that’s something Royster and JCPS hope Advance Kentucky can help turn around.All three schools that began working with Advance Kentucky last year have already increased their student participation rate more than any of the other JCPS high schools. But their passing rates still need help. Moore High jumped in student participation from 28 to 108 tests taken with a 14.8 percent passing rate (17.9 percent the year before). Valley High went from 147 to 359 tests taken with a 6.1 percent passing rate (4.8 the previous year). And Waggener High increased the number of tests taken from 87 to 209 with a passing rate of 8.1 percent (18.4 percent the year before).Yesterday WFPL reported on how Kentucky faired with the latest Advanced Placement (AP) exam data release. Trends are pointing upward for the number of students taking AP tests and scoring a passing grade. Click here to see that coverage.(Image via Shutterstock)