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
- 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.