Newly released state data shows Snoqualmie Valley School District lags behind

Sometimes a picture (or graph) – with the latest state data – paints a telling story.

Hanging in front of Mount Si High School is a large banner announcing the district’s “AP Honor Roll” distinction. Six years in a row SVSD was honored with the AP award that tracks growth as opposed to overall enrollment of high performing AP districts.

SVSD saw years of growth in its AP program as high school enrollment rapidly increased and student demographic changed, going from hardly any students trying AP to about 29% of 9th-12th graders taking the college prep courses in 2013-14.

The district has a 40% AP enrollment goal by 2017-18. Mount Si High School’s Learning Improvement Plan also lists 5% as its annual AP enrollment growth goal. The latest state data, however, shows only 24% SVSD high school students completing one course. The statistic is tracked because the state considers AP enrollment a ‘college and career’ readiness marker.

This year the ‘AP Honor Roll’ growth accolade eluded SVSD, with enrollment declining for the second straight year.


If you have a high school student – or a child approaching high school – in the Snoqualmie Valley School District, you may not know the benefits of AP (Advanced Placement) courses.

What students are told most often are the cons of the courses: advised to not overload; that AP probably isn’t a good idea if they have outside activities; that AP is stressful. The benefits tend to sit on the proverbial back burner.

If you read the Mount Si HS course catalogue, you might think AP and honors classes are mental torture chambers, when in fact, education experts across the state and country disagree.

Screenshot of MSHS 2017-18 Course Catalogue:

There’s also one small write up about AP inside the MSHS course catalogue that states: “AP provides students an opportunity for learning that goes beyond just facts and figures. The rich course material, classroom discussions, and demanding assignments typical of an AP course will help a student develop content mastery and critical thinking skills expected of college students. What’s more, by participating in AP, a student is given the opportunity to earn college credit (by taking national AP exams in May of each year) and stand out in the college admission process.”

Missing from the MSHS course guide are AP descriptors like these found on nearby district websites and course guides:

  • “More likely to graduate high school and attend college; Better prepared for college course work; Opportunity to advance further and faster; Competitive advantage in college admission and scholarship processes; More likely to graduate from college.” 
  • “Students who are prepared to be successful in college, career, and life need to develop essential Key Cognitive Strategies, Key Content Knowledge, Academic Behaviors, and Contextual Skills and Awareness (David Conley, College and Career Ready). Students are able to build these essential knowledge and skills in Advanced Placement courses.”
  • “Students who take AP courses develop skills and study habits that will be vital in college. They learn to analyze problems effectively, improve writing skills and prepare for exams. They understand what is needed to succeed at the college level.  Colleges and universities recognize that applicants who have taken challenging courses are much better prepared for the demands of college.”
  • “In AP’s immersive courses, you don’t just read about things, you get to learn how things really work. You won’t just be memorizing facts and figures that you’ll forget moments after the test. In AP you’ll tackle concepts and do things that will stick with you long after the class is through. AP teachers’ hands-on approach to learning takes you out of the typical classroom and into an experience that will prepare you for college and beyond.”

Based on my four children’s experiences trying AP/honors courses, while they are challenging, they are not the torture chambers portrayed above. [The homework load noted above was not accurate in their cases.] My two children in college say they were better prepared. Both are getting A’s and B’s at state (WWU) and private colleges (NYU). One took multiple AP classes per year, one took one AP class per year.

SVSD does not have a policy encouraging all kids to try [even one] AP course like Tacoma or Bellevue – and that is fine. They are not for everyone, but does that mean kids should not be encouraged and/or parents not told the [long list] of benefits of Advanced Placement – along with all the cons touted above?

The Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Education just released new data tracking what percentage of 9-12th grade students are trying one option of dual credit courses. Dual credit courses are considered a “performance indicator” the state tracks in its effort to increase student success – during and after high school.

Different types of dual credit options tracked are:

  • Advanced Placement
  • InternationalBaccalaureate
  • University of Cambridge International Examinations
  • College in the High School (i.e. UW in the High School Classroom – credits earned at participating university with passing grade)
  • Running Start (high school student take dual credit courses at Bellevue College)
  • Tech Prep (credits transfer to community college, vocational schools)

New data shows SVSD lagging behind other area school districts (by a lot in some cases), even behind the state average. [See above chart.]

In 2015-16 school year, about 24% of SVSD high school students tried at least one AP/IB/Cambridge/College in High School course. For the three years the state has tracked these data points, SVSD has declined each year: 29% to 26% to 24% – even as its student population has grown, AP course options have expanded, and with 9th graders now having access to biology, AP, and higher level math.

When Running Start students are factored into the equation, SVSD does inch above the state average, but still remains at the bottom for area school districts. Factoring in all data points, SVSD still lags behind the state.

Expanding Dual Credit

The district is currently working to expand dual credit offerings. A presentation to the school board in mid March focused mostly on an expansion of CTE courses that fulfill the tech prep category. Expanding AP or adding IB wasn’t discussed,  but the presentation did mention expanding Bellevue College in the high school, and a few possible Eastern Washington University college in the classroom options.

SVSD has an increasing percentage of graduates moving onto 4-year colleges/universities. When polled in previous years, a large percentage of 9th grade hands pop up when asked if they plan to go to college. While the district’s mission statement declares SVSD is preparing kids for college, career and citizenship, graduates’ post high school plans show an increasing majority aim for 4-year colleges, yet the dual credit expansion presentation followed a different trend.

In recent years, Superintendent Aune has stated that the district is concerned with student anxiety and stress – and pointed to rigorous school work as being a factor.

Last year, in an article about a possible reduction in access to rigorous courses, MSHS principal John Belcher said the school had seen a “concerning trend of stressed out, anxious and increasing suicide ideation” with math as a big component.

Recently, though, Rogers High School in Spokane has made national headlines for taking the approach that by making school more rigorous, they can get more kids into college and stay there. For the past five years the school has worked to get more kids taking AP. Over the last two years Rodgers had AP enrollment jump almost 20%. Over four years their college-going rate was up 10%.

Last year Rogers High School, with about 350 fewer students than Mount Si, had 528 kids in an AP course. Mount Si had 466.

What an Expert Says

North Bend Mental Health Counselor and Learning Specialist Cathy Jenner says she doesn’t think anyone really agrees on what causes anxiety and depression in kids. She said learning is best when things are within a child’s zone of proximal development (i.e. not too hard or too easy), which is different for everyone and constantly changing.

She explained, “For some kids, harder classes can increase anxiety and depression if the material is too far outside of their zones of proximal development, but mainly the anxiety and depression are already there as a result of not being able to self regulate.”

Jenner believes that TV, internet and phones are direct causes of anxiety and depression, as people regulate emotions by having quiet, reflective time, time for their bodies to relax

Through his own insistence, my son tried honors and AP classes even while I was apprehensive. In his case, elementary school testing labeled him as “average” –  the same testing that put his older sisters in Hi-C classes. I did not encourage him to take this step, but he succeeded with A’s and B’s  – and had some [high] AP test scores that less than 10% of kids across the country achieved.

Had he not tried we may have never known. He discovered how capable he is – no longer thinking he is less than. On his own he did exactly what SVSD’s just-launched AVID program is designed to do – a program not all SVSD students can access.

He will graduate this year. His grades aren’t perfect and they were achieved with hard work most of the time. He learned a lot along the way – socially and intellectually. That’s all we wanted for him – to learn the things that would prepare him and expand options for his next steps in life. He was accepted to the University of Washington last month, learning that hard work pays off.

The Snoqualmie Valley School Districts vision statement reads: “To become the best school district in Washington State by any measure.”

Washington state school districts are under local control. It’s why each district takes a different approach to success measurements like AP and other dual credit courses. Schools are for the community and shaped by community values. When and if community members identify things they feel need to be changed, they are encouraged to contact district administrators and school board members who represent them.

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  • 2017 property taxes up 8 percent on average .The majority of property tax revenue, 52 percent, pays for schools. “When and if community members identify things they feel need to be changed, they are encouraged to contact district administrators and school board members who represent them.” Message to district administrators and school board members – you can do better.

    1. Totally agree. We should do better as a district! To others that also feel it’s worth 2 minutes of your time, please email our school board your thoughts on this:;;;;
      and SVSD Superintendent: Joel Aune

  • Rodger high school demographics = old, poorer part of Spokane considered a “rough” neighborhood. They are getting young people ready for college.
    Snoqualmie would be looked at as upper middle class to rich kids school in comparison.
    When our little ” Duces” grow up and attend High School here I hope they are challenged, encouraged, motivated to get ready for higher education not pampered because it might cause anxiety or stress.

  • It is a very good idea to include the “positive” aspects of the AP courses in their description. It is easy to see how the existing description would scare students away. The benefits of AP courses are indeed important for the student who wants to be challenged to learn and get the most benefit from high school education. In addition, the more difficult courses teach a student how to work hard and gain the satisfaction of achievement, character traits that are essential for success in life. Not all students should go to college, but those that do go to college should definitely take AP courses.

  • Every time I’ve heard John Belcher speak to parents, he has encouraged families and students to consider AP courses. There may not be a formal policy, but I’ve always walked away from these events knowing that MSHS wants every student to stretch and try at least one AP course during their time in high school.

  • A student at Rogers High School had committed suicide on May 2. It was the fifth suicide in the district during this school year. The day before, Superintendent Shelley Redinger had posted an open Facebook message on the district page: “These recent losses should make us all aware of the threads that bind us together in our interactions with our students every minute of every day.”….hmmmmm

    1. Very, very sad. Looks like it happened in 2015, not last year, and occurred district wide (large district) not just at Rogers HS. Here’s an article about it… sounds like the Spokane School District was really trying find out why it happened. “There are no common threads in socio-economic backgrounds, students were involved in activities and bullying does not appear to be a factor. District officials have found no “pattern or profile” as to why these four boys and a girl took their own lives.”

      Full article here:

  • The success of the Running Start program seems minimized — I know several kids who have tried (and failed) AP courses, or have been intimidated by AP courses, who have been VERY successful with the RS program. And from what I have understood the numbers of students taking advantage of RS has jumped dramatically the past few years. Having that AA degree + HS degree at the end of your senior year should be celebrated. Not every child will follow the same path, and once again I am hearing the “AP rules the world” mantra. Sorry — as the article correctly points out AP is not for everyone.

  • I continue to be concerned with the school board’s myopic view of post secondary education. AP participation and entrance to 4 year college stats should not be used as the linear measure of success of MSHS or any other high school. I would encourage the board to consider a broader perspective. Perhaps look into the employment and financial status of our graduates 10 years out of high school. How many are employed in positions that required the coveted 4 year degree? How many are saddled with crippling school loans? Why doesn’t our school board actively support students entering the trades as passionately as they support raising the AP and 4 year college stats? A broader, more enlightened vision of realistic and financially viable options presented to our students and SUPPORTED by our school board would be greatly appreciated by this tax payer. Students should not graduate from MSHS feeling “less than” simply because they are planning to attend a community college, trade school, or go directly into the world of work. Perhaps the pressure to fit the AP/4 year college mold is increasing some of the anxiety/depression being reported at MSHS? I would encourage the board to invest some time researching job growth rate stats, salaries, and post secondary training costs for a wide variety of trade careers. Promote and encourage ALL post secondary education/ training options with equal gusto. Thank you for considering this position.

    1. Speaking as an individual school board member, I have advocated for a K-12 system that allows for students to understand the various pathways for post high school education for college and career. I have been a constant voice in support of our system graduating students with options so they have choices after high school that will prepare them for the jobs in today’s economy. I have also been a strong voice for our system to lower barriers so that students, if they so choose, can reach for their own goals. Rather than being myopic, I support broad knowledge of and access to choices and pathways, and our district is making progress in this area.
      And, we must acknowledge that most, not all, but most jobs today in high wage/high demand fields, especially in our state, require some post high school education. Many jobs in our state are in the STEM field, which more often than not require some college or a college degree; others may require apprenticeships, technical school, or military training. There should not be a “less than” mentality, for any choices that help students aim for their own well-informed career choices. Our schools are working on improving the information that students and parents need along the way, throughout the entire K-12 system, to understand what is needed to graduate with options so that doors don’t close on a kid’s dream. Gaining some of that career education and college credit in high school is helpful for students (and their parents’ wallets), and I support expanding those opportunities. In recent studies by the National School Board Association’s Center for Public Education, they found that 9 out of 10 graduates (from the class of 2004) tracked through age 26 ended up attending some college, even if they didn’t start out that way. At the same time this study also found that non-college goers fare better when they have had rigorous high school coursework. (
      I also serve as president of the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce, and in doing so, I work with many other eastside Chambers to look at the mismatch between the high wage high demand jobs in our state and region and the education and training needed to attain those jobs. As such, our Chamber luncheon on April 26 at noon at The Club at Snoqualmie Ridge is hosting a presentation from the Washington Roundtable, a consortium of the CEOs of the top employers in the state in many fields. I invited this group to present their report: “Pathways to Great Jobs and Opportunities for Washington Kids”. And this presentation is not just for college pathways. Registration for this luncheon is at ( Additionally, I am working with several willing employers in the Valley who are considering opportunities to provide internships, apprenticeships, career exposure, and pathway examples to help our students.
      During my time on the school board (I am three months into my sixth year), I have advocated for more information about what happens to our students post -high school. Such information could be essential in both identifying areas in which we are doing a great job as well as in identifying improvements needed in our K-12 system. I just spent three days in Denver at the National School Board Association annual conference, and I focused on attending sessions on career education, including for the trades, technical schools, and colleges. There was much discussion about ensuring kids have options, providing students opportunities for college credit and career training in high school, and tracking post high school success. It is easy to track technical and college students all the way through their college years, including what types of certificates and degrees that are attained (and we have that information from the National Student Data Clearinghouse), but it is currently difficult to track those students who go directly into apprenticeships or careers. It is also difficult to track what happens to students after certificate and degree attainment. This is not just an issue here, but also nationally, and solutions are being researched.
      Student voice is important both during their school years and via surveys and tracking after graduation. It will help us inform instruction so that we can provide the best possible K-12 system for students to understand the pathways to reach their dreams. I hope we soon can find new ways to hear from students.
      Carolyn Simpson

  • I would be more interested in how many students passed the courses rather than how many signed up to take them.

    1. The state data only tracks how many complete the course of which withdrawals do not count. I would assume that to mean that completed means they passed the course as an F does not give them credit. They do not have to pass the AP test to pass the course.

  • So……we only know how many students enrolled, not how many passed. Gee, I wonder why.

    1. Hey Jerry – Are you meaning do we know how many passed the AP test? If so, no. The state data doesn’t track that. It tracks how many got credit (or a passing grade) for the AP course itself. So technically we know how many passed the course and received credit on their HS transcript, but not the success rate on the AP test itself. Some kids at MSHS don’t take the AP test, just the course.

      1. Yeah, I know. I have my own opinions, but unlike others in our community, I value asking questions. Old lawyers tactic, never ask a question unless you already know the answer. Very illuminating for those that wish to learn.

  • “This year the AP growth accolade alluded SVSD, with enrollment declining for the second straight time.”
    I think you mean “eluded”.

  • Living Snoqualmie