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A different perspective on AP courses

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Reporter Liz Bowie's lengthy analysis of Advanced Placement courses in Baltimore County Public Schools generated a lot of discussion at Eastern Technical High School, a National Blue Ribbon School with some of the highest AP scores in the county and state ("Maryland schools have been leader in Advanced Placement, but results are mixed," Aug. 17).

Two of my former colleagues, Paula Simon and George Nellies, have called into question the benefits of AP exams for all but about 20 percent of a school's population — the elite" if you will. Having taught AP English for the last 12 years, I offer a different perspective on the value and benefits of AP.

First, by focusing on Woodlawn High, a school with very low AP participation and performance, and Dulaney High, which has some of the best participation rates and scores in Baltimore County, Ms. Bowie leaves out countless schools in the middle that have made significant gains in both numbers of students taking AP courses and those passing the exams.

In addition, the choice of schools would seem to underscore racial and socio-economic gaps in Baltimore County schools that would appear, from the data cited in the article, to be almost insurmountable. But they are not.

The choice of schools also leaves out career and technical education schools such as Eastern Tech, which has a highly successful AP program. A program like ours goes far to prepare our graduates for the challenges of higher education and work in the 21st century.

We have shared our template for success on the national stage, presenting at the National Association of Secondary School Principals annual conventions, the annual AP conferences and College Board Forums.

Eastern Tech was not always the academic powerhouse that it is today. The transformation started in 1992 when then Principal Robert Kemmery realized, after speaking to business and industry leaders, that the school was training students for jobs that soon would not exist — key punching, cosmetology, welding, mechanical drafting, etc.

Students were barely passing basic tests, and AP did not exist. Mr. Kemmery dropped vocational from the school name, began closing worthless programs, pushed teachers with low expectations for students out the door, dropped "filler courses" such as consumer math, launched a fledgling AP program and hired dedicated teachers to turn the school around.

After Mr. Kemmery retired, his successor, Pat McCusker, shared the same philosophy as Mr. Kemmery: "If you want to improve academic performance school-wide, growing an AP program is the way to do it." Thomas Evans, our current principal, has continued the tradition of expecting the very best from students and teachers on a daily basis.

Ms. Bowie's article encourages all high schools in Maryland to reflect on what they are or are not doing with their AP programs. Honest reflection is a good thing. I invite her to visit Eastern Tech to see our program in action, and she might also visit schools such as Owings Mills and Franklin to get a complete picture. Any high school in Maryland can effectively grow an AP program if administrators and teachers have the will to do so.

Harry J. Cook, Baltimore

The writer is chairman of the English department at Eastern Technical High School.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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