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Few area students taking Advanced Placement tests to earn college credit

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Maybe it's cost or lack of confidence. Whatever the reason, students at Central High School are enrolling in Advanced Placement courses but only a handful are taking the tests.

Students that complete the rigorous, college preparatory courses can earn college credit if they score high enough on voluntary exams at the end of the year. Research shows that success on AP exams can be a predictor of success in college.

Central plethora of AP classes are among the most offered in the region. More than 10 courses were offered last year, and AP American history, French and Spanish have been added this year. But recent data shows that only 39 students— out of about 1,380 — took one or more AP exams this spring.

Student success rates are rising; State data shows 64 percent of tests were scored a 3, 4 or 5, equal to the Missouri average. Last year, 62 percent of Central tests were scored a 3 or higher, according to principal Dr. Mike Cowan. Most colleges require at least a score of 3, on a scale of 1 to 5, for credit.

Still, Cowan wishes more students were attempting the test. He has arranged a meeting with AP teachers this week to discuss ways to encourage students to participate.

"It may be a confidence issue. They may not feel as if they are going to do as well as they would like to do," Cowan said, also citing the $86 exam fee and varying degrees of credit offered by colleges as reasons students may be deterred from taking the exams.

The number of students who took an AP class was unavailable Monday but are generally about the same size as a regular class.

Central's situation is not unique. In Jackson, about 4 percent of students took an AP exam (out of 91 tests taken, 74, or 81 percent, were scored a 3 or higher). Poplar Bluff and Sikeston, Southeast Missouri schools with comparable demographics to Central, had similar participation rates: 2.2 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively. Their success rates were 47 percent and 24 percent.

"I'd always like to see more students take it," said Vince Powell, principal of Jackson High School. "We put a put a pretty big emphasis on AP ... Increasing our rigor in all our classes is something we're working on."

The number of students participating in Cape Girardeau and Jackson far exceeds those in rural districts, where AP programs are nearly nonexistent.

No students took an AP exam last school year in Chaffee, Delta, Leopold, Oran or Zalma. Sixteen students took an exam at either Kelly, Meadow Heights, Oak Ridge, Perryville or Woodland, but only one student, at Meadow Heights, scored a 3 or higher.

Small schools simply don't have the resources for such programs, counselors said.

"I wish there was more to offer. I've talked to kids from bigger schools, and they came in with 18 hours," said Lacy Welker, Meadow Height's 2008 valedictorian and a freshman at Southeast Missouri State University. "I only came in with seven hours of elective credit."

Welker took a dual credit biology class in high school, which cost her nearly $500, she said. But Southeast only counted the class as an elective because she plans to enter a science field.

"With our school being so small, there wasn't a whole lot of choices," she said.

Instead of AP classes, most rural or small schools offer dual credit courses, where they pair with a university to offer college-level curriculum. In some cases, students are bused to a college campus, in other cases a trained teacher offers the class on-site.

In Zalma, students can take online classes during the school day through Three Rivers Community College or Southeast. In Delta, a correspondence course with the University of Missouri is offered, along with dual credit classes at the Sikeston Higher Education Center. High-performing Chaffee students are bused to Southeast for two hours each morning.

Dr. Douglas Christiansen, dean of admissions at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., said graduating from a school without an AP program does not automatically put students at a disadvantage. Extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, test scores and other variables are all considered. The key is to take the most rigorous curriculum offered, he said.

For Mandy Tucker, Oak Ridge's valedictorian, that meant taking more science courses than required instead of elective courses. Tucker is now a freshman at Southeast.

"It's not that the magic word is AP. It's do they have the initiative, experience and knowledge to be successful." Students should be asking themselves "Can I take an online course or can I take a course at a community college?" he said.

lbavolek@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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Lindy,

You should not compare the number of students who took AP tests to the total number of students in the high school, but rather to the total number of students in the AP courses. Also, each test taken by a student should be counted, not just each student. For example, my daughter will be taking three AP exams this May - this should count as three individual tests, not as one student.

-- Posted by michelle02 on Tue, Sep 9, 2008, at 8:40 AM

Way to go SEMO, charge a young student $500.00 and then don't give her credit earned.

-- Posted by insider63785 on Tue, Sep 9, 2008, at 8:52 AM

michelle02: Comparing the number of students in AP classes to the number of test takers wouldn't be a valid comparison either. I knew several students who took and passed AP tests without even taking a single AP class. Heck more than a decade ago I passed 6 AP tests while only having attended classes for 2 of the subjects. If a student knows enough about a certain topic it is a waste to take the AP class when they can take a more interesting class and pass the test anyway.

-- Posted by Nil on Tue, Sep 9, 2008, at 9:32 AM

SEMO is not denying anyone anything they have paid for!! Students take a 3-hour class for free. This class would cost them around $600 if they took it on campus. The testing fee of $86 is nominal. Furthermore, the $86 fee is not a purchase of a certain grade or hours of credit. It is for the opportunity to earn the credit.

Similarly, when a student signs up for a college course as a SEMO student, they are not paying for the credit. They are paying for the opportunity to take the course.

In both cases, it is up to the student to make the most of their opportunity, to do passing work, and to achieve the standard necessary for the grade & credit.

-- Posted by KatieM on Tue, Sep 9, 2008, at 12:09 PM

It has to be the cost period. Students have too much to pay for as it is. They spend money on the ACT/SAT materials for classes (that should be provided by the class) and just being a kid. It is bad enough that the school forces some of these kids to take AP courses when they do not want to. I understand that academics is very important but so is enjoying your time at school. Dr. Cowan needs to quit pushing the educational side so hard. A kid will learn what they want to learn at their own pace. Support everything not just the academics.

-- Posted by GrizzlyBearDance on Tue, Sep 9, 2008, at 2:13 PM

It has to be the cost period. Students have too much to pay for as it is. They spend money on the ACT/SAT materials for classes (that should be provided by the class) and just being a kid. It is bad enough that the school forces some of these kids to take AP courses when they do not want to. I understand that academics is very important but so is enjoying your time at school. Dr. Cowan needs to quit pushing the educational side so hard. A kid will learn what they want to learn at their own pace. Support everything not just the academics.

-- Posted by GrizzlyBearDance on Tue, Sep 9, 2008, at 2:13 PM

"Dr. Cowan needs to quit pushing the educational side so hard," says GrizzlyBearDance

Wow, I've never thought of it like that. I sure would hate to see an educational professional IN CHARGE OF EDUCATION push learning too much.

As for the cost of Advance Placement exams, they are established by the College Board (http://www.collegeboard.com/student/test...). Neither the high school or university are receiving money for this. It's the student's choice to take AP ... it's not forced on them by the school.

If anyone has ever attended college, then they know that paying $86 for three hours of credit is a bargain ... and they're saving time (which is just as important). College-bound students that receive AP credit are SAVING money and get time to invest in other courses.

As for ACT and SAT exams, the ONLY reason a high school student would take these is if they wanted to attend college. If you're not interested in college, don't take the test. If you're interested in college and take an ACT or SAT prepatory class, then you can prepare on your own ... or you can purchase study materials. It's the student's choice to take the ACT or SAT exams ... it's not forced on them by the school.

It took a whopping two minutes to determine what SEMO would accept for AP credit ... http://www.semo.edu/testing/cbe/ap.htm

-- Posted by Wisconsin on Tue, Sep 9, 2008, at 5:46 PM

Quit pushing the educational side? You've got to be kidding! It's a school!! That's what it's for!! Come on Grizzly....surely you weren't serious!

-- Posted by JHS on Tue, Sep 9, 2008, at 11:38 PM

My statement is that the school IS forcing students to take AP courses. I know of this first hand. There are 3 students who did not sign up for AP courses and the school told them that they needed to be in these courses to challenge themselves. The students tried to transfer out of them into regular classes and the school would not allow it. That is forcing kids to take these courses. As for pushing the academic side, I am saying that the school needs to push everything not just academics. Read the whole statement and take it for what it is. NOT WHAT YOU WANT IT TO MEAN. That is what a political person does.

-- Posted by GrizzlyBearDance on Wed, Sep 10, 2008, at 10:50 AM

GrizzlyBearDance: "I am saying that the school needs to push everything not just academics."

Uhh ... no. Nothing was taken out of context from your comment. And no ... because someone disagrees with your comment doesn't make it a politically motivated response.

Three instances of students being 'forced' to sign up for AP classes? Interesting. If the courses are elective and not required for graduation, I'm wondering how a school (or teacher) could 'force' the student to take the class.

-- Posted by Wisconsin on Thu, Sep 11, 2008, at 10:23 AM


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