Parents and educators discuss differences between AP courses and classes for Gifted and Talented students

More than a dozen parents gathered at Johnnycake Elementary School Wednesday evening to pick the brains of area educators about Gifted and Talented (GT) and Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

The 70-minute meeting, organized by the Southwest Area Education Advisory Council, pointed out the differences between, and the benefits of, the GT program and AP courses.

Ken Dickson, a coordinator in the school system's Office of Gifted and Talented Education, made the presentation and led the discussion.

"I don't want to present a notion that there's a competition between AP and GT," Dickson said at the beginning of the presentation.

GT courses start as early as third grade, Dickson said, and teach lessons in a manner that appeals to those students who learn, think, communicate and behave differently.

Information from parents and students and academic achievement help determine which students qualify for a course in the GT program, Dickson said, noting that the system of identifying students is far from perfect.

"No one can really validate a child's giftedness, but we can look at hints," Dickson said. "The systems are not airtight. We're constantly trying to find ways to refine them."

AP courses, on the other hand, are offered to students as early as the ninth grade and are designed to be college-level courses, Dickson said.

"AP is a college course in high school taught by secondary teachers for kids who are willing to work very hard," Dickson said. "It may be able to exempt your child from certain college courses. It may make your child's college stay shorter."

Dickson noted that not all colleges will accept a student's AP classes.

Many colleges, according to a handout given to parents at the Jan. 18 meeting, will grant credit or accelerated standing to a student who scores a 4 or 5 on the AP exam, which cost $86 this year.

In 1992-1993, the AP participation rate for county public schools was about 2 percent. In the 2010-2011 school year, the system's participation rate was 17 percent, according to a release from Baltimore County public schools.

The number of AP exams taken — 10,251 during the last school year — has increased 27 percent over the past five years, according to the release.

The exams with the highest number of passing students, that is, those who scored a 3, 4 or 5, were English language and composition (937), psychology (694), U.S. history (621), English literature and composition (613) and calculus AB (482), according to the release.

There are 31 AP courses offered by the 29 high schools in the county, according to a handout at the Jan. 18 meeting.

The three high schools in the southwestern portion of the county offer 21 AP courses, such as art history, microeconomics, environmental science and statistics, according to a handout at the meeting.

At Catonsville High School, one AP course is available to freshmen, three to sophomores, seven to juniors and 13 to seniors, according to the handout.

Catonsville students are allowed to self-select AP courses. Teachers and counselors will discuss with students and parents if AP is the right choice.

Lansdowne High School and Western School of Technology and Environmental Science use PSAT scores and teacher recommendations to identify students for AP courses, the handouts stated.

Lansdowne has three AP classes reserved for seniors and two reserved for juniors, a handout stated, with the rest of the 14 AP courses the school offers for juniors and seniors.

Western Tech has one class for sophomores, nine classes for juniors and 14 for seniors, a handout stated.

Dickson mentioned that preparing students for college and GT and AP courses should start early.

For example, Dickson said that parents should start talking to their children about college as early as the fourth grade.

"Time is finite for (our) bright learners," he said..

Dickson said about 33 percent of the 105,315 students in Baltimore County public schools participate in at least one GT or AP course.

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