School success: LWSD named to AP District Honor Roll

For the third year in a row, Lake Washington School District (LWSD) has been named to the College Board’s annual AP District Honor Roll.

The honor roll recognizes districts nationwide who have increased access to Advanced Placement (AP) coursework, while maintaining or increasing the percentage of students earning scores of 3 or higher on AP exams.

While this is LWSD’s third year in a row, it is the district’s fourth time being recognized in the seven years of the honor roll. A total of 433 public school districts in the country have received the honor. Six of those, including LWSD, are from Washington.

“I am proud our district has been named to the AP District Honor Roll again this year,” said Superintendent Dr. Traci Pierce in an LWSD press release. “It reflects the work our schools are doing to prepare students for post-secondary education, including doing college level work in high school.”

The honor roll is based on three years of AP data, from 2016-16.

According to the release, districts must demonstrate increased participation/access to AP by at least four percent in large districts, six percent in medium districts and 11 percent in small districts. They must also increase or maintain the percentage of exams taken by African American, Hispanic/Latino and American Indian/Alaska Native students who scored 3 or higher on at least one AP exam. And finally, districts must improve or maintain performance levels when comparing the 2016 percentage of students scoring a 3 or higher to the 2014 percentage — unless the district has already attained a performance level at which more than 70 percent of its AP students earn a 3 or higher.

At LWSD, students took a total of 3,934 AP tests, an increase from 3,758 tests in 2015, the release states. The rate of students achieving a score of 3 or higher remained at 80 percent both years.

At Redmond High School (RHS), 420 students took 847 exams last year and 87.1 percent of them scored a 3 or better, said principal Jane Todd.

This year, the school is offering 21 AP classes. Courses include core subjects such as math, science and social studies — each with a variety of content areas — as well as elective courses including visual and performing arts and world languages. In addition, Todd said RHS occasionally offers AP European history and AP art history.

She said this year, they have 1,237 seats filled in their AP classes, though the number of total students is fewer as there are students who are enrolled in multiple AP classes.

Todd said the College Board does not recommend AP classes for ninth-graders and there are some schools who do not offer AP until 11th grade. At RHS, they begin offering AP courses at 10th grade, but she said there are courses in subjects such as math or science that ninth-graders can access if they have taken the prerequisites. Todd added that there is no “gatekeeping” at LWSD when it comes to AP courses and enrollment is completely open. She said any student who is motivated enough to try an AP class should be given the opportunity to sign up.

AP exams are given the first two weeks of May each year and students are scored from 1-5. And while a score of 3 or higher may result in college credit, advanced placement or both at certain schools, Todd said the biggest advantage of taking AP courses is the fact that they replicate the experience of a college course when it comes to the work load. She said students who take AP classes are less shocked when they get to college and their transition from high school to college is easier.

Todd added that there are other options for students to prepare for college such as enrolling in Running Start, which involves students taking classes at a local community college — Bellevue College, in this case. While Running Start and other options such as college-in-the-high-school courses also prepare students, Todd said their curriculum is more regional, versus the national curriculum offered through AP.

Bob Miller, who teaches AP chemistry at RHS, agreed that AP prepares students for college and university. He said according to the College Board, there is a large dropout rate among college freshmen. That rate drops by 50 percent for students who take just one AP course during high school and continues to drop with each course they take, he said.

Miller, who has taught AP chemistry for 11 years and previously taught AP biology for 10 years, said his classes are second-year courses and he assumes his students already have a background in the subject.

“They are the college first-level courses,” he said.

He said they use a college-level textbook, go more in depth and the reading level is higher.

“It’s quite rigorous,” Miller said.

He added that students are more prepared for college when they are able to experience a college course beforehand. Miller said this aligns with the district’s vision of every student future ready by not only getting them to college, but also preparing them to be successful in college.

Miller noted that the pass rate for AP exams — a score of 3 or higher — at RHS is about 90 percent across the board, compared to the national average of 60-70 percent (depending on the subject). While this shows how well teachers have prepared their students for these tests, he said the students themselves need to be recognized for this success.

“We have a great group of students,” Miller said.

Todd added, “we’re very proud of our students,” regarding their success at AP exams. However, there are a variety of reasons for them to be proud of their students. For example, she said, there are students who may struggle academically but they try and work hard.

High performance is not the only thing that makes RHS shine, Todd said.