LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette Parish School System is one of only three districts in Louisiana recognized by the College Board for its increased participation and improved student performance on Advanced Placement courses.
Lafayette, DeSoto and Vernon Parish school systems made it onto The College Board’s AP District Honor Roll, a list of 547 school districts across the country and Canada that have ramped up AP course availability for students and also increased or maintained the number of students scoring a 3 or above, on a 5-point scale, on AP exams.
The College Board is a not-for-profit organization that offers high school students access to college prep opportunities, such as the AP program, which it oversees. Courses are available to juniors and seniors, and a score of at least 3 is needed for students to receive college credit for the AP course they’ve taken.
The recognition by The College Board signals the school system’s expansion of more rigorous course options to prepare more students for college, said Randy Bernard, an academic specialist with the school system who also coordinates the AP program.
“It’s a sign that Lafayette is committed to rigorous coursework because by being on that honor roll, it means we’ve significantly increased our access to those rigorous AP courses and at the same time, our scores have not seen a decline,” Bernard said.
The College Board reviewed school districts’ data from the school years 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14. In that time, the number of students in Lafayette Parish taking AP exams more than doubled, from 193 to 493. In the 2011-12 school year, nearly 43 percent of students taking an AP exam scored a 3 or more while nearly 37 percent achieved a 3 or higher in 2012-13. Nearly 42 percent scored a 3 or higher on the exams in 2013-14.
The total number of tests given to students also has increased — meaning some students are choosing to take more than one course and the accompanying exam for college credit. In the 2011-12 school year, 224 tests were taken and 43 percent of tests had scores of 3 or higher. Last school year, 653 tests were taken and 43 percent of them were scored at 3 or higher.
Lafayette Parish high schools have increased the number of courses they offer students in the past few years in response to a push from the state for districts to improve access to the college prep courses.
As a way to boost AP course access, the Louisiana Department of Education has provided districts some funding to help train teachers to teach AP courses and expand course offerings.
The state also covers exam fees for first-time AP students and provides exam fee reimbursements for students who are eligible for free/reduced-price lunches. Students who score a 3 or above on the AP exam also help boost their schools’ performance score based on the state’s accountability measures.
In the past year, the total number of AP course offerings districtwide increased from 32 to 41. Courses range from English literature and physics to calculus and European history, and the selection is based in part on students’ performance on standardized tests and their interests.
Counselors and teachers also pitch classes to students to grow interest in a course, said Ken Roebuck, principal of Carencro High, where course offerings have nearly doubled in the past school year. Last school year, five AP courses — two in English and one each in biology and in U.S. and world history — were offered. This school year, students have the same choices, as well as options to study AP courses in calculus, chemistry, psychology and U.S. government.
Roebuck said he thinks student participation has increased because of changes to the district’s grading policy that now give more weight to Advanced Placement courses.
Previously, students who took more rigorous AP courses, along with their parents, worried their grade-point averages might slip if they didn’t ace the advanced class, which could affect their access to scholarships and even good grade discounts offered by auto insurance companies, Roebuck said.
“That was a big drawback, because our students were saying, ‘Why don’t I take this easier chemistry class?’ ” Roebuck said.
Another change that helped boost enrollment was showing younger students that they’re capable of mastering the advanced classes. At the school, “honors” classes were removed from the schedule; they’re now called pre-AP classes, Roebuck said.
“They get in there and see, ‘I can do this,’ ” he said.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.