City principal: Challenging courses, not SAT prep, will produce better outcomes

City principal: Challenging courses, not SAT prep, will produce better outcomes.

This week's release of the nationwide 2015 SAT report, showing a third year of decreasing scores for the state of Maryland, calls for a discussion about college readiness ("Maryland SAT scores decline for third year in a row," Sept. 3). But while some argue that more needs to be done for SAT test preparation, we believe more needs to be done to invest in access to proven rigorous curriculums for all students.

At Baltimore City College, we've found that by expanding access to our International Baccalaureate (IB) program to all students, we prepare more students for college and close persistent opportunity gaps.

In the Class of 2015, 75 percent of our seniors participated in the IB Diploma program, sitting for more than 800 IB subject exams in May. For comparison, consider that only 20 percent of students nationwide get the opportunity to take one AP course at their school. And the number of students of color who are enrolled in advanced courses nationwide is even lower.

But at City, expanded access to our program led to more students of color taking IB classes. For example, in 2015, 85 percent of participants in our IB Diploma program were students of color. And since 2014, in which the average success rate for earning the official IB Diploma award was 62 percent, half of those awarded were students of color.

The results of expanded access to this rigorous curriculum are impressive for both a public high school in America and one in which 48 percent of its graduates are the first in their family to attend college. With access to IB, last year's City College seniors exceeded most state school performances earning an average SAT critical reading score of 575, a math score of 552, and a writing score of 549. Additionally, last year 98 percent of our students were accepted into college, many of them to selective universities. And since 2012, 86.7 percent of our graduates remain enrolled in college after two years, according to the National Clearing House, compared to just 80 percent of students nationwide.

We credit our remarkable results to the access to a rigorous curriculum we've provided our students. And our results aren't isolated. Other school systems that have invested in rigorous curriculums have seen similar results. For example, in a study of Chicago high school graduates between 2010 and 2012, Chicago Public Schools found that 67.2 percent of students who participated in the IB Diploma program attended a 4-year college compared to 49.6 percent who took non-IB courses.

So while we do recognize that all schools can do a better job preparing students for college, including our own, we reject the narrative that better SAT scores will prepare students for college. Instead, we need to expand the conversation to include a discussion about how to provide more students with more access to a well-rounded curriculum.

Cindy Harcum, Baltimore

The writer is the principal of Baltimore City College. She is also a 1988 graduate of City and the parent of a City Collegian.

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