Two very different AP schools, both with good news
I received some interesting news recently from two Washington area high schools, Washington-Lee in Arlington County and the Friendship Collegiate Academy in the District. W-L, as it is often called, is a regular public school. Friendship is a public charter school. About 34 percent of the W-L students are low-income. That figure is twice as high, 70 percent, at Friendship.
W-L graduates about 400 seniors a year, Friendship about 250. They both have dedicated teachers and ambitious programs to give as many students as possible exposure to college-level courses. W-L has both Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses. Friendship also has AP, plus access to a significant number of University of Maryland and University of District of Columbia courses.
Friendship has fewer affluent, college-educated families than W-L does. (Arlington, where W-L is, has just been declared by the Brookings Institution as having the largest portion of adults with bachelor's degrees, 68 percent, of any U.S. county.) Friendship students mostly come from D.C. schools with standards not as high as those in Arlington. So they start high school, on average, at a lower level.
AP for them is a big challenge. Last year, only 21 of Friendship's AP exams received passing grades of 3, 4 or 5. The faculty has been preparing students for AP earlier, however, giving them more writing and reading in lower grades. This year it paid off, with 30 passing scores, a 43 percent increase. Four students scored the top mark, a 5, on the AP U.S. Government and Politics exam. One student passed four AP exams, in World History, U.S. History, English Language and Calculus. Another student, a junior, had passing scores in Human Geography, World History and U.S. Government and Politics.
"As part of Friendship's mission to prepare students to graduate from college, their charter high school is committed to exposing increasing numbers of students to AP courses increasingly early in their high school careers," said Barnaby Towns, spokesman for the Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, the D.C. nonprofit that supports charters.
W-L is going in the same direction. The College Board discourages schools from giving AP World History to ninth-graders. It is designed as a senior year course, after students have taken AP European and AP U.S. history. But W-L decided to try an AP World History course for freshmen anyway as part of its plan to show that anyone can do AP. Its goal is to have every student at the school take at least one AP or IB course, something that usually happens only at magnet schools with restricted enrollments.
Nationally, only 5.6 percent of the students taking AP World History exams in 2009 were ninth-graders. Their results were not that great. Only 43 percent of those freshmen received passing scores -- 22 percent got 3s, 13 percent got 4s and 8 percent got 5s.
But the results from the 33 W-L ninth graders who this year took that course and its three-hour final exam were very different. Ninety-four percent had passing scores --
12 percent 3s, 42 percent 4s and 39 percent 5s. (Those three numbers would add up to 94 if I didn't round off.)
W-L’s principal gives the credit to AP World History teachers Christina Steury and Jeana Norton. They did just what Friendship has been doing. Students received more early preparation. The rising freshmen who signed up for AP were invited to attend an "Introduction to Advanced Courses" program at the school last summer. "We began to prepare these kids for the rigor that lay ahead," Robertson said. "We realized that these kids were not only going to be new to AP/IB, but they were also new to high school."
Across the country, schools are introducing more students to college-level courses. Some educators and parents are worried that it is too much, too soon. But I think that overlooks the power of good teaching done before the AP, IB and other college courses begin. If that early preparation is working in schools as different as Friendship and W-L, it seems to me it could work anywhere.
| July 27, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories: Jay on the Web | Tags: Friendship Collegiate Public Charter High School in the District, Friendship has 43 percent gain in passing AP tests, Unusual progress in AP courses, W-L has almost perfect passing rate in AP course given to ninth graders, Washington-Lee High School in Arlington County
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