IC schools to expand advanced courses


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A national study says Iowa high-school seniors are behind their peers, but local education officials say they are one step ahead.

Iowa City schools are pushing to expand Advanced Placement course offerings for high-school students, which remain inaccessible to many students statewide.

According to a recent report by the College Board — a not-for-profit organization that helps students transition to college academics — 11 percent of Iowa high-school seniors scored a 3 or higher on an Advanced Placement test last year. This statistic puts these students behind the national average — 20 percent of seniors received 3s.

But Jim Flansburg, the Iowa Department of Education interagency liaison, said the numbers do not mean Iowa students are struggling.

“It's not as straightforward as you’d think,” he said. “High-school students are taking community college courses at a higher rate than Advanced Placement courses. That’s their preference. That’s the choice students have taken in the state of Iowa.”

He said 36,000 students enrolled in community college courses for dual credit last year, while 5,700 took Advanced Placement tests. Dual-credit courses are available in every county in Iowa, which is not the case for Advanced Placement courses.

“Advanced Placement is not as widely available,” Flansburg said. “Some schools are very, very small and are just not able to have Advanced Placement offerings.”

Michael Barron, the University of Iowa executive director of Admissions, university officials do not distinguish between college credits earned from dual-enrollment courses and ones earned from Advanced Placement tests.

“You will find students who are ready for college-level work at any high school in Iowa,” he said. “What is important is that students challenge themselves with appropriate coursework. Both of these methods provide that.”

However, local high schools will expand their Advanced Placement offerings at a rapid pace. City High now provides 21 Advanced Placement courses, and West High has 18.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of students who take Advanced Placement courses here as more and more students accept the rigor of the AP program,” said John Bacon, the City High principal.

Last year, 980 Advanced Placement courses were taken, and 420 tests were taken at the school.

The Advanced Placement program has grown at West High as well. West High Principal Jerry Arganbright said the growth is in response to students in need of “challenging and rigorous” coursework.

He said 90 percent of students score 4s or higher on the tests. Last year, 900 exams were taken among 450 students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses.

“Our kids are clearly ready for the college-level work, which is reflected by the Advanced Placement courses,” Arganbright said.

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