07 Mar CCSD students make gains in Advanced Placement exams

The number of high school students in Nevada who pass Advanced Placement (AP) exams is now higher than the national average according to a recent report by the College Board.

The report is great news for the state of Nevada and the Clark County School District (CCSD) which serves more than 70 percent of all students in the state.

According to the report, the number of Nevada students passing the exams with a “3” or higher has gone from 14 percent in 2006 to more than 22 percent in 2016.

“Over the past several years, CCSD has steadily increased AP exam participation, leading Nevada to see the largest three-year and one-year increase in the percentage of public high school graduates passing an AP Exam,” said College and Career Readiness Coordinator Jennifer Lile. “However, what is more impressive is that even with this climb in the number of tests taken, AP exam pass rates in CCSD have remained steady.”

By the Numbers:

• Of the CCSD students from the Class of 2016, 5,989 students graduated having taken an AP Exam while 3,429 earned a “3” or higher on an AP exam.

• Of the Class of 2016, 26.3 percent earned a “3” or higher on the AP Exam, 4.4 points higher than the national average of 21.9 percent.

• CCSD has increased its AP Exam participation to 21,130, which is an overall increase of 35.5 percent increase in exams taken since 2013-14.

• During the last three years, CCSD has maintained an average of 50.2 percent of students passing the AP Exam with a “3” or higher.

• CCSD has increased minority AP Exam participation to 8,267 minority students in the 2015-16 academic school year from 5,644 minority students in 2013-14.

• CCSD has increased minority students passing the AP Exam to 4,145 students in the 2015-16 academic school year from 2,912 minority students in 2013-14.

So what are the reasons for the increase in participation and the pass rate?

Lile attributed the powerful results to a changing culture within CCSD. She said it is now a culture of rigor and high expectations as well as a combination of identifying more students with AP potential and covering the costs of those tests. Lile also pointed to strong teacher training programs as being another key to these positive changes.

The training programs have increased teacher’s access and participation and now all AP and pre-AP teachers are invited to attend the annual Silver State AP Summer Institute (SSAPSI).

“Having strong teacher training programs such as the SSAPSI and now AP professional learning community, ensures our AP teachers are prepared to teach the level of rigor necessary for successful completion by our students,” said Lile.

The support at the district level is only part of the big picture. At the school level, administrators and teachers have worked on ways to promote their AP courses. Lile pointed to Liberty High School as having a strong program with students receiving plenty of support from administration and teachers.

Principal Derek Bellow said the administration and staff sat down a couple of years ago and had a discussion about who and what they wanted to be. The result was a passion for the school to be known for academic achievement in addition to the athletic success the school has had.

However, before teachers can be successful in helping their students, the school’s counselors play a crucial role in helping to identify students who may be comfortable coasting in honors classes that would be good candidates for AP classes.

Once the students are in the classes, the school’s commitment to having students excel in academics includes professional development for the teachers, so Bellow has been managing his budget carefully in order to allocate funds for teachers to attend annual College Board conferences. These conferences provide teachers with the opportunity to share and learn “best practices” while they network with some of the brightest minds from around the planet.

“My teachers are the experts, so we have made a commitment to invest in them,” said Bellow. “Communication is such a crucial element and we work to make sure there is a coordinated effort among our staff.”

In addition to the professional development for staff, the school has also made a financial commitment to their students as they will cover the costs for the AP exams for any household that is not able to afford the $93 per test fee. The school also holds boot camps and study sessions to help the students according to teachers Jeff DePew and Anu Pande, veteran teachers who are in their 18th and 16th year of teaching respectively with CCSD.

“Our goal is to help them be prepared for the rigors of college or university courses once they graduate,” said DePew. “Our bottom line is that it is all about the student and we are all working together to help them succeed.”

Pande said, “We align our teaching to the College Board vision, but we know not all students are at the same level or learn the same way, so we change our teaching styles to the way the students learn. We keep encouraging them and we don’t give up on them.”

Bellow praised his teachers for their dedication and passion.

“These teachers take it personally, so it is important to them to have their students pass the exams because those students are a reflection of them, especially when they go to some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the nation.”