ORANGE COUNTY –– Just the sound of the term “advanced placement” can intimidate some high school students, but for many students in Orange County, the concept presents a welcome challenge.
Orange County Public Schools announced recently the district ranked first statewide, and eighth nationally, for both growth in student participation on AP exams and scores.
Out of 19 OCPS high schools, three West Orange-area schools — Dr. Phillips, Olympia and West Orange — had the highest percentage of OCPS students scoring three or higher on the exams, which are taken for college credit after the students finish AP courses. A fourth high school, Winter Park High, also topped the district list.
Since last year’s 2014-15 testing period, OCPS, collectively, saw a 15.9% increase in the number of exam takers, a 16.3% increase in numbers of exams taken and a 10.9% increase in students who scored a 3 or higher.
These rankings, OCPS maintains, are the result of the district’s heavy emphasis on encouraging students to embrace the rigor of enrolling in courses known for being challenging. Kathy Marsh, OCPS director of media relations, said the district relies on a psychological strategy that has proven effective in stimulating student interest in AP courses.
“Rigor is important, and if we expect a student to perform at a certain level and don’t raise the bar, they’ll stay at that level,” Marsh said. “But once you start raising the bar, a child will rise to that level. We’ve seen it over and over again. And that’s how we’ve seen our success with the growth in AP (participation.) ... It’s because they believe they can do it.”
The philosophy is based on the story of foreign students at Freedom High School who learned English quickly and then excelled in AP courses, which are taught in English. The foreign students’ success, despite not being entirely familiar with the language, led educators to reason that students whose first language is English stood an even better chance at succeeding in AP courses. And so began the district’s push to help OCPS students “embrace rigor.”
“If you choose not to expose a student to higher-level work, then, in a way, you’re shortchanging the student because you don’t know until you try,” Marsh said.
Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected].