NAPLES — More Collier and Lee county high school students are taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes and International Baccalaureate (IB) exams, an indication that the students understand how important taking college-level classes can be to their futures.
But the students’ performance on the exams is a mixed bag.
Collier County saw 2,567 students take 4,751 AP exams in 2009, an increase over the 2,136 students who took 3,572 exams in 2008. In Lee County in 2009, more than 4,960 AP or IB exams were taken, an increase of more than 700 exams from the previous year.
No high schools in Collier County offer the IB program; three schools in Lee offer IB courses.
AP exams are graded on a scale of 1 to 5. A grade of 3 or higher is considered passing and will earn a student credit at most universities.
Although the percentage of Collier students scoring a 3 or higher on the AP exam dropped from 54 percent in 2008 to 45 percent in 2009, the actual number of exams that were scored 3 or above increased, going from 1,931 exams in 2008 to 2,113 exams in 2009.
“In other words, more of our students with more courses were scoring 3 or higher resulting in more college credits for these students,” Collier Chief Instructional Officer Martha Hayes wrote in a memorandum to Superintendent Dennis Thompson. “In addition, there is an upward trend in the number of exams with 3 or higher scores over the last twelve years.”
In Lee County, more exams were passed than ever before, but the percentages of passing scores dropped to 50 percent in 2009 from 56 percent, the ratio carried in 2007 and 2008.
Lee schools accountability director Richard Itzen said the district has to be careful to strike a balance between enrolling more students in challenging, upper-level classes, but at the same time avoid pushing students who may not be ready for the rigor of AP or IB coursework.
“We always would like to see a higher percentage of tests being passed,” Itzen said. “I think for a period we went through a time when we wanted to get as many students into those classes regardless, and there are still people who think it’s the best policy because students are exposed to more rigorous standards even if they don’t pass the test.”
Now, the district tries to carefully identify students to enroll in AP and IB classes based on previous courses, standardized test scores and parent input.
“First, we look at ability and if the student is going to be successful,” said Jami Covert, vice principal of curriculum at Estero High School.
Estero increased both the number of students taking AP exams and the percentage of students passing those tests in the past year.
“It’s very exciting,” Covert said. “We had an 8 percent increase in the number of students passing and a 26 percent increase in the number of students taking the tests.”
Estero still has a ways to go to reach the district average, after a 32 percent passing rate this year, but the school is growing its AP course offerings in line with many of Lee County’s other schools. AP chemistry and AP Spanish courses were added this year, bringing the school’s total AP offerings to nine classes.
AP psychology is still the most popular AP course taken in Collier County, with 593 exams taken in 2009. For exams with more than 25 students, Calculus BC had the highest percentage of students scoring 3 or higher with 90 percent. That was followed by Spanish language, which saw 82 percent of AP students scoring a 3 or higher on the exam.
Barron Collier High School still has the most students taking AP exams. In 2009, 634 test takers took 1,176 exams. Of those, 51 percent scored 3 or better on the exam.
Gulf Coast High School saw the most students passing their AP exams. Of the 768 exams taken, 452 were scored at 3 or better, or 59 percent.
All of Collier County’s high schools saw more students scoring 3 or higher this year with the exception of one. Naples High School saw the number of exams scored at 3 or above drop from 453 in 2008 to 444 in 2009. This comes as more than 200 more exams were administered in 2009, going from 643 exams in 2008 to 879 in 2009.