Three local school districts have been recognized for gains in the number of students who take Advanced Placement courses and perform well in them.
Greenwich, South Glens Falls and Ballston Spa are among 539 school districts the U.S. and Canada to be named to the third-annual AP District Honor Roll.
To be recognized, a school must increase access to AP coursework and increase the percentage of students who earn a score of 3 or higher on an AP exam. The exams are graded on a 5-point scale.
A grade of 5 is a perfect score, while a 3 is the equivalent to a “C” grade. A score of 3 is also enough for students to earn college credit, which can potentially save them thousands in college tuition.
The College Board, a nonprofit organization that manages the AP program, said in a news release that achieving gains in AP access and student performance shows districts are succeeding in finding motivated students who want to take AP courses.
AP courses are harder than typical high school courses because it exposes students to college-level work.
High schools offer rigorous courses—above and beyond what is required to meet state graduation standards—in some form. Some schools offer AP courses, others have courses offered through online educational agencies or colleges.
No matter the options, school officials try to encourage students to take the hardest courses because the effort will prepare them for college. It also helps students when applying to college because it shows they took rigorous courses.
As a result, high schools encourage students to challenge themselves academically if they wish to move on to college.
“Our mantra is, if you are considering going to a four-year college, you must be taking an AP class,” said George Niesz, principal at Greenwich High School. “If you are considering going to four-year college, you should be considering taking an AP class. This is college-level work in a much more supportive environment.”
In 2005, 44 AP exams were taken at Greenwich. Last May, it was 98, Niesz said.
The average grade has also climbed, from 2.48 in 2008 to 3.28 last May, Niesz said.
Greenwich, along with districts across the state, has slashed its budget for the last three years to offset decreases in revenue. While jobs and services have been cut, AP courses were kept.
The school has eight AP courses in subjects such as English, math, science and history.
Michael Patton, superintendent of South Glens Falls, said the district collects feedback from former students, who told the school that AP courses prepared them for college.
“Any chance that we have to encourage our kids to take the most rigorous coursework that will prepare them for the rigor of college is in everybody’s best interest,” Patton said.
In 2011, 61 AP exams were taken at South Glens Falls. Last May, it was 79, Patton said.
The high school offers five AP courses and AP six exams (there are two exams in AP physics), Patton said.
How students are prepared for college has become a major issue in New York.
Community colleges are using more resources today for remedial courses to prepare students who are not ready for college. But remedial work is expensive for colleges, and it also increases the time (and the cost of tuition) students need to graduate.
The State University of New York and the state’s Board of Regents are searching for ways to improve the k-12 school system so students are ready for college.
Offering AP courses comes with a cost. Schools have pay stipends to teachers and for the training needed to teach the course.
Niesz appraised Greenwich teachers for taking on the extra work to teach an AP course.
“The kids are great, but you have to have excellent teachers to take on that responsibility and go for it,” Niesz said.
New York had 32 school districts that made the AP district honor roll.
The 539 school districts are across 44 states and six Canadian provinces. Last year, Cambridge was the only local school district on the honor roll.