High school goes rah-rah over AP

Posted: February 16, 2014

WASHINGTON TWP. Wednesday afternoon, there was a pep rally at Washington Township High School. Principal Joseph Bollendorf led the charge. More than 250 students were on hand. Buttons with slogans were handed out. Gift cards were won.

But this rally wasn't for one of the school's athletic teams. It wasn't even about school spirit per se.

The students in the audience were all taking Advanced Placement courses, and the rally was meant to get out information about the school's AP program and to get more students to take AP exams at the end of their courses.

"We believe that our AP program, both the levels of the courses and their rigor, best prepares our students for the rigorous work that they will encounter in college and give them the best chance for success in that college coursework," Bollendorf said.

"For whatever reason, we have many capable students who have not sought to challenge themselves by sitting for the AP exams. We are making every effort to increase both our AP enrollments and those who complete the AP testing process."

Recently, the state set a goal of having at least 35 percent of high school juniors and seniors take at least one AP test - in English, math, social studies, or the sciences - as a benchmark of college readiness.

Even before that, Washington Township was working on improving its rate, but that effort is getting something of a full-court press.

The rally was part of it. The slogan on those buttons was "Ask Me About AP."

"We hope our students will be our ambassadors," said head of guidance Jonathan Strout.

According to Strout, 31 percent of the high school's juniors and seniors take at least one AP course, but only 9 percent of its students sit for an AP exam.

To give students more incentive to take the AP exams, the school board recently approved for the 2014-15 school year a measure that will reimburse students all or part of the $89 exam fee if they do well enough.

Students who score a 3 ("qualified") will get a 50 percent reimbursement, those who attain a 4 ("well-qualified") will get 75 percent, and those who get the top score of 5 ("extremely well-qualified") will get 100 percent back.

Students eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches already have their exam fees paid by the district. Other districts have similar programs.

To add to the incentive, the high school will enter all students who take the AP exam this year in a raffle for two iPads. Plus, students who take an AP test who average 85 percent or higher in each of the four marking periods for that course will be exempt from taking the final.

Even with the new sweeteners, it had been decided that, starting with this year's freshman class, the spread between the added grade points for honors vs. AP will be widened to encourage more students to go the AP route.

For school leaders, it is part of the education process.

"There are a lot of misconceptions about the value of AP tests," Strout said.

Colleges value students who take rigorous classes such as AP courses, but some, including some of the elite institutions, don't give college credit for them. Still, Strout said, many students do not realize they can start at one school and transfer later to another that does accept AP credit.

And many colleges do accept the credit.

"We've had kids who will come in and tell us they began college as sophomores," Strout said.

856-779-3893 rgiordano@phillynews.com@ritagiordano

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