Over the last six years, enrollment in Advance Placement testing across Harford County Public Schools has increased, but that increase has not necessarily translated into more students passing the exams.
Students who pass Advanced Placement exams are afforded by many colleges and universities the option of skipping a comparable college level course, or receiving college credit for the course or both, so AP programs are often regarded as giving college-bound high school students a jump on collegiate academics.
Harford County has seen a substantial increase in enrollment in AP classes since 2008, according to data from the Maryland State Department of Education, with 2,284 students enrolling in AP classes last year, compared to 1,227 in 2008.
At the beginning of the recently-concluded school year, the school system announced an expansion of opportunities to clear the way for greater student participation in AP courses.
Every high school also has a college readiness coordinator, often referred to as a CRC, a counselor or teacher who oversees the college readiness initiative, according to Jillian Lader, Harford County Public Schools spokesperson. The CRC works with the central office and administration to expand tutoring opportunities for the AP test, advises students whether to take AP tests and assessments, analyzes school data and infuses strategies, Lader said.
"Effectiveness is measured systemically by analyzing the data with regard to the number of students successfully completing AP courses, taking the correlating AP assessment, increasing scores of 3, 4 or 5 and increasing SAT scores," Lader said in an email.
Last year, however, of 3,871 AP tests taken by Harford County students (a single student may take more than one test), just 62.6 percent resulted in passing scores. By contrast, 2,946 AP tests were taken in 2011-2012 school year with passing scores being achieved on 64 percent.
During the 2012-2013 and 2011-2012 school years, the school system had 26 AP class offerings: five science, two English, seven history and social science, four math and computer science, four world languages and cultures and four arts courses.
During 2012-13, 5,896 students enrolled in at least one of the available 26 AP classes, a 28.43 percent increase in enrollment compared to the 2011-2012 school year, when 4,691 students enrolled in at least one such class.
The AP courses with the heaviest enrollment last year were world history, U.S. history and psychology, respectively.
More than 65 percent of the students who enrolled in AP classes last year took the corresponding tests. Students can enroll in AP courses, but opt not to take the test, which costs $89 and is administered by the College Board.
Between the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years, there was a 31.4 percent increase in the number of students enrolled in AP classes who tested.
According to the College Board, a non-profit organization that administers AP and SAT tests, a school may require students to pay a higher fee than $89 to cover local proctoring and administration costs.
Former Harford superintendent Robert Tomback proposed a program for the 2011-2012 school year giving students financial waivers for the AP exam, but the Harford County School Board eventually cut the $223,242 Tomback had sought for the project.
All Harford students participating in the free and reduced meal program, however, are eligible for AP waivers through a federal grant, according to Lader.
Last year, 385 waivers were provided in Harford schools; this year the school system requested 584 waivers, Lader said.
Enrollment in math classes up, but not scores
Enrollment in AP math courses increased 22 percent from the 2011-2012 to 2012-2013 school year, but the percentage of Harford students opting to take the AP exam decreased in two out of the four math offerings.
During the 2012-2013 school year, 924 students enrolled in AP math courses, 166 more than the previous year.
Enrollment increased in calculus AB, calculus BC and statistics, but remained the same in computer science AB. There was a dramatic increase in enrollment in Calculus BC classes at 74.7 percent from 2011-2012 to 2012-2013.
While more students seem to be taking AP math courses overall, the percentage of them opting to take the AP exam decreased in both Calculus AB and BC classes.
During the 2011-2012 school year, 62.6 percent of the students enrolled in AP Calculus AB took the exam, compared to just 57.7 percent last year. Although there was also a decrease in testing for Calculus BC, it was less dramatic, from 88.9 percent in 2011-2012 to 86.7 percent in 2012-2013.
"In order to enroll in AP calculus, students must meet perquisites to this course that include algebra II, trigonometry and pre-calculus," Lader said. "Consequently, the number of students who qualify to take this assessment is smaller."
Computer Science AB saw the greatest increase in testing, increasing from 37 percent in 2011-2012 to 79.6 percent in 2012-2013.
According to Lader, the skills associated with AP computer science are in high demand in the workforce.
The increase in testing in computer science is due to "an increase in understanding the current job market and students making an effort to acquire the skills necessary to be successful in the job market," she said
Large margins in qualifying scores among Harford Schools
Fallston High School outperformed all other Harford public high schools in Calculus AB and BC last year with a 94.7 percent passing rate in AB and 100 percent in BC.
North Harford High School lagged behind in Calculus AB last year with 29.2 percent passage rate. Patterson Mill High School lagged in Calculus BC with 66.7 percent passing; no students from Joppatowne High School and North High School tested.
Only three Harford schools tested in Computer Science AB last year, Aberdeen High School with a 47.6 percent passing rate and C. Milton Wright High School with a 92.9 percent passing rate. North Harford High School enrolled and tested students, but those figures were not reported by the school system.
Bel Air High School led the pack in qualifying scores in the statistics exam at 87.8 percent; only 50 percent of students received qualifying scores at Edgewood High School. No figures were reported for Joppatowne, North Harford and Patterson Mill high schools last year.
Initiatives to push math
Earlier this year, Aberdeen High School was awarded "School of the Year" by the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) for gains in scores on the AP math, science and English exams during the 2012-2013 school year.
Two years ago, aerospace company Boeing targeted Aberdeen High School – where many students are children of military and defense contractors at Aberdeen Proving Ground – through the NMSI Comprehensive AP program to improve AP testing in math and science courses.
Boeing agreed to pay Aberdeen High School teachers and students $100 for each passing score on an AP exam. The number of AP course offerings in math and science also increased.
Since implementing the program, in minority students at Aberdeen High School the average increase in the number of passing math, science and English scores was 233 percent, 16 times the national average, according to a new release from the school system.
Last year, Aberdeen High School accounted for 12 percent of the entire state's math, science and English increase in AP passing scores and for the 9 percent increase in AP passing scores in math and science for girls.
Havre de Grace High School was also sponsored through the NMSI Comprehensive Program through a grant from the Department of Defense Education Activity. The average first-year increase in the number of passing AP math, science and English scores was 70 percent, nearly 10 times the national average, according to the school system.
"Harford County Public Schools students are encouraged to participate in AP courses," said Nancy Reynolds, president of the county board of education. "The school system and the board of education are committed to partnerships like we have established with NMSI and will continue to support these programs in order to provide all students the opportunity to enroll in AP courses."
Enrollment up in English, but gaps persist
Harford County schools have also seen an increased enrollment in AP English language arts courses over the past several years, but a 12 percent decrease in tested students who receive a qualifying score.
Harford County schools have seen almost an 80 percent increase in enrollment in AP English language arts courses since the 2007-2008 school year, according to data from the state department of education.
In Harford County, the percentage of students receiving a qualifying score on an AP English language arts test has decreased from 77.9 percent during the 2007-2008 school year to 65.9 percent in 2012-2013. The AP tests are scored on a scale of 1 to 5 with a score of a 3 or higher as a qualifying score, according to College Board.
Between the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school year, Harford County saw a slight decrease in the number of enrolled students testing in its English Language and Composition and English Literature AP courses.
In 2011-2012, 79.4 percent of enrolled students tested in English Language and Composition compared to 78.1 percent last year. 71.1 percent tested in 2011-2012 in English Literature and just 67.8 percent last year.
Just 65.9 percent of Harford County students passed the English Language and Composition exam last year, a 10.7 percent decrease from the previous year, although 138 more students tested last year.
English Literature saw a 5.7 percent decrease in passing scores last year, compared to 2012-2013 with 58 more students testing.
Gaps also persist in English across Harford schools
Fallston High School had the highest percentage of students passing the English Language and Composition exam last year at 86 percent. Just 22.6 percent of students passed at Edgewood High School.
C. Milton Wright High School had a 100 percent passing rate in English Literature last year. Joppatowne High School had a passing rate of 33.3 percent.
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According to Lader, it is difficult to compare scores in different schools because the number of students who opt to complete AP assessments varies by school. She said based on analysis of AP course and assessment data, recommendations are provided to schools on how to increase course enrollment and student achievement.