You may have spotted yard signs around town this summer promoting a student’s advance placement elite status. The celebration was for good reason. The sign represented a year of hard work by a student along with the emphasis the Grain Valley School District places on AP classes.
Advanced Placement courses created by the College Board offer post-secondary level curriculum and exams to high school students. Colleges and universities may grant placement and course credit to students who obtain high enough scores on the examinations.
School districts across the Kansas City Metropolitan area have a variety of ways they may shepherd students into AP courses. Grade point average, reading scores, Pre-ACT scores and other key performance indicators may be used in the placement of students into an AP course.
Grain Valley High School wants placement in AP classes to be driven by student choice. Dr. Jeremy Plowman, the principal of Grain Valley High School, is proud of the success his school has had in that they don’t base Advanced Placement enrollment on GPA or Pre-ACT scores.
“If a student and their parents want that student to take an AP course, then they will take it. I want kids who may not get good grades, or are bored in school, or don’t do homework, to be enrolled in an AP class. A student should take an AP class if they have interest, an aptitude, or their plans dictate post-secondary education in a particular area,” Plowman said.
“There is no prerequisite for getting into an AP course. We do have Pre-AP courses for the purpose of advanced preparation.”
“We did a study eight years ago and found that we had as many kids with a 2.5 to 3.0 GPA as kids to 3.5 to a 4.0 GPA. What we found was this: other than kids above a 4.0 who excel at everything, the kids with lower GPA’s (2.5 to 3.0 GPA) did just as well on the tests as the kids with the higher GPA’s (3.5 to 4.0 GPA). Your score is not necessarily grade related. It’s not because you’re just a good kid, have great parents, or everyone likes you. The test score you receive is graded by someone far away using data.”
The College Board cites it’s a non-profit organization that has run the AP program since 1955. It goes on to state the Advanced Placement Program develops and maintains guidelines for the teaching of higher-level courses with great rigor in various subject areas.
Instruction in an AP course is a major undertaking for teachers. Teaching college level curriculum to high school students, preparing them for their final exam, and wearing the many hats of motivator, content guru, and task master is not without its challenges.
Mendi Spencer is an AP Biology teacher at Grain Valley High School. Spencer identifies multiple benefits that come from taking AP courses, including gaining an advantage in competitive fields such as nursing or medical school.
Spencer also acknowledges that an AP Biology course looks quite a bit different than traditional high school Biology. Key concepts are covered at a faster pace, problem-solving abounds, and that leads to the need to talk about research. Tackling real world issues in curing or preventing cancer, diabetes, and genetic diseases come to the front and center for students.
Trials and rewards also exist for those who take AP courses. Spencer took the time to share her thoughts on both topics.
“For students, the biggest challenge is managing time to keep up with the large amount of information covered. However, we have great science classes that prepare students well before they take AP. As for teachers, the first years of the class can be a struggle. I had to learn about 60% of the content I was expected to teach my students (even with the summer week-long training and professional development provided prior to teaching the course initially),” Spencer said.
“Sometimes students start the year with poor study habits and will think the class is too hard for them. With a bit of guidance, I see poor students turn into great ones. When I see this happen, I’m so proud. I also love to receive emails from previous students that tell me their classmates think they are a genius and ask them for help all the time.”
U.S. News and World Report annually ranks high schools across the nation. They use four key criteria to compile the overall score given to high schools. They are the percentage of students who took at least one AP Exam, percentage of students who passed at least one AP Exam, Mathematics Proficiency on state level tests, and Graduation Rate Percentage.
Grain Valley High School was ranked as the 38th best high school in the State of Missouri for 2019 based on Spring 2018 criterion data. U.S. News and World Report listed that 68% of students took at least one AP Exam, 30% passed at least one AP Exam, 69% Mathematics Proficiency, and a 96% Graduation rate. The publication should release it rankings for 2020 based on Spring 2019 criterion data later this year.
Plowman indicated an increase in the percentage of the number of students who passed an AP Exam in the Spring of 2019 at nearly 40%. Furthermore, he expects 750 AP Exams to be taken by 450 students by the end of this school year.
Grain Valley High School’s principal compares taking an AP class to playing Michael Jordan in a one on one basketball matchup.
“You are not going to beat him and it’s not necessarily going to be fun, but you are going to know the level you have to be at for success. AP classes have an advanced rigor with the test attached to it and college level work that goes with the course,” Plowman said.
“I don’t care what grade students get in an AP class. I don’t care what score they get on an AP test. If they get college credit for the course, then great. It’s about exposure to an advanced level of work, stretching yourself academically, and taking a high stakes exam.”
Plowman continued, “It might let a parent know if their kid can handle college. If they’re in an AP class and struggle, then do you pay for a four-year university after graduation right away? AP allows them to hit adversity. We have to put kids in situations where they must grow. You have to experience adversity to grow. It’s also mandatory that if you take an AP course, you have to take the exam as well. I receive some flak for that, and that’s fine because we consider the exam part of the course and challenge. We have other classes you may take if you don’t want to take an AP course or exam.
Consideration has been given to students on free and reduced lunch status regarding affordability for the exam. Plowman indicated those students pay a flat reduced rate for the exam along with trying to exhaust other means if necessary, to make sure a student is not excluded from testing based on cost.
Grain Valley High School also offers career related courses for students who may not be headed in the direction of a four-year college or university. Plowman indicated that approximately 70% of their graduates go on to a two or four college. Career technical education has been added to available courses for the other 30% of the student body.
“We didn’t have that program until four years ago. Business, FACS (Family and Consumer Sciences), and Project Lead the Way are all pre-career programs. We also partner with the Career Technical Center in the Fort Osage School District, Summit Career Center, and the programs at Blue Springs including aviation and cosmetology nail tech,” Plowman said.
Plowman explained the idea is beyond expanded course offerings and getting into career pathways so that a student may possibly take multiple classes in a career cluster such as culinary arts or accounting prior to graduation.
The old saying goes, the future belongs to those who prepare for it today. 21st century college and career readiness may include exposure to an AP course and exam, to getting hands-on job-related experience with career technical learning.
Photo credit: Grain Valley Schools
Students work on a project in an AP History class at Grain Valley High School.
Photo credit: Valley News Staff