Iowa City's high school AP test scores trump rising national average


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Iowa City West and City High’s Advance Placement scores have consistently topped national averages — demonstrated once again last week in the release of the Advance Placement test report.

Advance Placement courses are classes taught in high schools that aim to provide a more rigorous course load, and prepare students for college-level classes. Passing scores — a 3 to 5 on a 5-point scale — are often considered credit in a college’s eyes, providing a bonus to students enrolling in the courses.

Last year, 179 City High students took 287 Advance Placement exams and received a 3 or higher on 233 of those tests (81.2 percent). City High offers 16 Advance Placement courses, and it will add four classes for next year’s students.

In comparison, in 2011, West High administered roughly 790 exams, with 90.7 percent of those exams earning a passing grade.

Nationally, roughly 954,070 students took at least one Advance Placement exam last year. According to the College Board’s report, 512,374 students received passing grades on the exams (53.7 percent).

To encourage positive results at the school, West High Principal Jerry Arganbright said the school recruits and hires high-quality teachers — something reflected in the Advance Placement scores. The courses do not affect students’ final grades or academic standing in the high schools.

Teachers aren’t the only ones encouraging students to take on the more rigorous courses — students encourage each other.

“There are a lot of conversations about what courses are appropriate, not appropriate and which ones have favor with the kids,” Arganbright said.

According to the College Board’s report, one in five public-high-school graduates scores a three or higher on an AP exam while in high school.  Seventeen states were above the national average, and Iowa was ranked 42 on the list.

Despite hopes students will take advantage of the Advance Placement courses and exams, City High Principal John Bacon said officials don’t put pressure on students to pass the exam — that isn’t the purpose.

“It’s a great experience as a culminating activity to show what they know,” he said. “It’s just a good experience to take a high-level exam.”

One UI professor doesn’t believe students should take the courses for additional credit.

“You shouldn’t want to take a college class because it will ‘count,’ ” said Susan Assouline, a UI professor and expert in cognitive development in gifted students. “You should want to for the class work, not necessarily because you’re going to get credit.”

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