This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
Advanced Placement for all? The Federal Way School District gets credit
– make that college credit – for a promising innovation.
Beginning in September, the district began automatically enrolling its sixth- through 12th-graders in AP classes, rigorous courses that can pave the way to a four-year degree. The curriculum is designed to prepare students for national tests that confer university credits prior to entering college.
Enrollment in AP calculus, physics, Spanish, etc., is normally an option exploited by ambitious, high-achieving students. For kids who’ve passed the state’s standardized tests, Federal Way has reversed things: They must opt out instead of opt in. And they need their parents’ permission to evade the clutches of an AP class.
Statistically, the results have been dramatic. The number of juniors and seniors taking at least one AP class has jumped by 72 percent. Minorities on the wrong side of the achievement gap have seen a bigger increase.
The jury is still out on this experiment. The national College Board’s Advanced Placement exams this spring will show whether the new policy translates into more Federal Way students getting a head start on college.
We’ll bet on its success. Many students rise to the occasion when more is demanded of them – and that’s precisely what automatic AP placement does. Preparing more of them for the national tests seems bound to result in more of them passing.
But there’s more to AP than fast-tracking college credit.
A 2007 Texas State University study found that students who took – simply took – Advanced Placement courses were considerably more likely to graduate from a four-year college within six years of high school.
The same findings appear to apply to Washington’s Running Start program and similar options that allow kids to earn high school and college credits at the same time.
Intuitively, it makes sense. Many children and teenagers have an exaggerated idea of the difficulty of college. Others think it’s just not for them. Kids whose parents and relatives never got beyond high school are especially prone to cramped ideas of their own potential.
College-level high school courses can familiarize them with what they’re really likely to run into in higher education – and show them that universities are not forbidding places with incredibly hard classes that only the elite can cope with.
If students with low expectations earn AP credits and discover – in high school – that they can cut it in college, that’s frosting on the cake.