Are West Boca kids getting the short end of the AP stick? Data from the school district shows that students at West Boca High and Olympic Heights High take fewer Advanced Placement exams and leave school with significantly less AP credits for college compared with Boca High and Spanish River.
We should start by noting that all the Boca high schools compare well to most schools in the state, as we discussed in December.
There are substantial differences in Advanced Placement exam statistics between the four public high schools in greater Boca Raton. More students at Boca High and Spanish River take AP exams, and they take more of them.
While differences exist between all the schools, the starkest disparity is between Boca High and West Boca High. Both schools have very similar SAT and ACT scores but their AP statistics are not even close.
In 2014, 41% of students at Boca High took at least one AP exam. Of the ones taking exams, the average student took 2.5 exams. As far as scoring, 65% of Boca High AP exams were scored at 3 or higher, qualifying them for credit at many universities.
At West Boca High only 27% of students took an AP exam, and among those students they took an average of 1.7 exams, with 61% passing (3 or higher).
Put another way, the average Boca High student enters college with credit for two and a half classes. The average West Boca student only gets credit for one college class.
Looking at the other two schools, Spanish River has significantly higher SAT and ACT scores. The kids who take AP exams also take an average of 2.5 exams in a year, like the kids at Boca High. But only one third of Spanish River kids take AP exams. That’s significantly fewer than the Boca High kids, though more than West Boca. Spanish River kids also have the highest pass rate, at over 73%.
Olympic Heights has the lowest SAT and ACT scores in Boca, but they still take more AP exams than West Boca High kids. Olympic also has the lowest pass rate on the APs at 58%. These numbers are actually quite good when you consider that the school has a relatively high poverty rate, students who are English learners, and a program for students with autism, Asperger’s, and emotional issues.
Olympic also has a program for a relatively small group of advanced students called OAPA. Those students do take a lot of AP exams.
Looking at the rest of the county, magnet school Suncoast Community High is by far the highest performer on APs. Three quarters of the kids take AP exams and they average 3 AP exams a year. Not far behind, the other big magnet school is Dreyfoos where 85% of the kids take at least one AP. They average just under 2 AP exams a year. At those two schools the average student graduates with credit for roughly five college courses.
Outside the magnets, Jupiter High and Atlantic High have numbers similar to Olympic Heights.
We reached out to the school district, to the principals of the four Boca schools, and to the two school board members (Frank Barbieri and Karen Brill) representing Boca. We have not received any meaningful response from the district or the school board.
West Boca High has a new principal, Craig Sommer, who has been received enthusiastically by the community. He sent us this response:
… I have the seen the same data that you refer to in the draft of your article. I agree that we have an outstanding opportunity to significantly increase the number of students that graduate from West Boca Raton High School with college credit as a result of taking and passing College Board’s Advanced Placement Exams. We are in the process of rapidly expanding both our AP and our Cambridge AICE program course offerings (including AICE Diploma and AP Capstone) to maximize our students’ potential.
In addition to the AP data, it is also very important to consider that there a number of ways students can graduate with college credit, beyond the AP program. We are very proud of our college dual-enrollment program that was recognized this past year as one of the largest and most successful dual enrollment programs in the county. West Boca High School also has an extremely strong industry certification program for our outstanding academy programs. This past school year our pre-Med Academy students earned the highest pass rate in the school district.
We look forward to an outstanding future at West Boca High School, and please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.
One other source also pointed to AICE and other programs as an alternative way for students to get college credit. We did not find any data on that so we can’t compare it.
We also talked to some parents, students, and recent alumni. One parent said:
AICE courses are not always given college credit. They are in Florida, but outside of Florida it is not at all a guarantee. In fact, at the colleges where my daughter … applied she didn’t even get the 6.0/A credit for her AICE class outside of Florida …. All colleges recalculate GPA when a student applies; within Florida the AICE classes get the bump to GPA like AP does; outside of Florida AP gets a bump while AICE usually doesn’t.
The interesting fact is that both Boca and West Boca offer AICE. At West Boca the AICE classes seem to be “replacing” AP’s for kids while that isn’t happening at Boca. Maybe Sommer is right when he says that the Academy classes fill in the gap for kids at West Boca. Boca High does have 2 academies – STEM and JROTC, we have 5. And the dual enrollment has always been popular at West Boca.
An OH parent with a kid in the OAPA program said:
Olympic Heights which now has it’s own AP academy, OAPA, that selects the highest performing academic students who are then required to take at least 7 AP classes in their four years of school. The first graduating class will be 2016, and it will be interesting to see what effect this will have on the numbers, taking into account OAPA only accepts approximately 50 students a year. There are many AP classes offered at Olympic Heights, taught by some truly incredible teachers and along with the opportunities for dual enrollment at FAU/PBCC students at this school are being presented with a wide variety of options to earn college credit.
Another parent from West Boca High expressed both positives and negatives that happen in all schools:
I am overall impressed with the academies offered at the school, in particular the Medical Academy. … That being said, most of the classes associated with the Medical Academy taken so far have been AICE and the quality of teachers has been absolutely exceptional. They take the time with the students and their primary concern is to make sure the students learn the material.
One frustration we have in this current year, is a class now being taken …. The teacher in this class … is one of the worst we have seen. This teacher is talked about among most of the parents & students as a frustration. She spends most classes playing a video and assigning an immense amount of homework … that literally takes the students at least 10 hours a week to complete. This class has taken up so much time to stay on top of it and maintain a good grade, that it takes away from our child’s study time in the rest of the classes. She doesn’t appear to even enjoy teaching.
Even at the parent teacher night, when parents have gone there hoping to hear the teacher speak, she chose to stand on the side and have former students speak on her behalf. The only time she spoke up was to laugh about how incredibly hard she tries to make all of her tests. When we have asked around to other students and parents of one’s taking this AP class, the same experience is repeated over and over again. …
I might also add that the new principal is very liked at our school this year. He is very personable and out there with the students staying involved. We hope he will continue to be a positive influence on West Boca High School.
We’ve heard similar complaints about math teachers at West Boca High for a few years now, but in writing this story we noticed that the pass rate for the AP Calculus classes is essentially 100%. A couple parents told us that the Calculus teacher is outstanding.
One other parent hit a note that rang very true for us:
I am in a state of awe that so much emphasis is placed on getting college credits in high school. I understand the competitive nature of college education but, perhaps the real litmus test for the performance of these schools should be SAT/ACT scores? As you point out in the article, these schools pull from many social, economic and diverse learning skills levels, the results are going to be skewed a bit.
We wonder if getting college credits should be the goal of high school. We send our kids to college to get college credit. On that note this book might interest some parents:
And one more parent quote:
I am shocked and disappointed to see we are at the low end of students graduating with college credits. Lower than Olympic is disappointing. I personally think a lot had to do with our previous principal who was not involved enough. IMO. I truly believe Mr. Sommer will help us improve those scores with his leadership.
My daughter has taken AP classes since she started West Boca. … Her teachers were VERY good in preparing them, and being available to them for help.
I was never even aware of dual enrollment until senior guidance night this year. I am not even joking. I am a pretty involved parent, but the guidance department is not very good with communication. Too late for my daughter, but we will try and take advantage of it with [our younger child]. Very frustrating.
My daughter has had 3 different counselors so far in 3.1 years at West Boca. Not helpful. Maybe not the school’s fault, but anyone on the latter half of the alphabet basically had no true guidance.
We also heard from one recent high-performing graduate of one of the local high schools who now attends a nationally ranked university:
The only AICE class I’ve ever taken, AICE General Paper, is probably the best class I’ve ever taken. Although I hated the class at the time, the teacher made me into a significantly better writer.
For AP, although I did not like all of my teachers and did not agree with many of their teaching methods, I do genuinely believe they wanted me to succeed. I found the classes to be very difficult and time consuming.
I got very little sleep in high school because taking APs with any extra-curricular is extremely difficult. But, to get into a good college, you gotta have a ton of APs and get really involved. So APs caused me a ton of stress in high school.
I also took dual enrollment classes and I found them easier than any regular classes I’ve ever taken.
High school, like college, is all about getting out of it what you put in. No matter where kids go to high school, they won’t get anything out of it if they don’t make an effort.
As much as I hated taking the APs (they made my high school life miserable) they are making my college experience significantly easier. I have pretty much gotten most if not all of my general education requirements out of the way, which is allowing me to double major. If I hadn’t gotten so many credits out of the way in high school, my college life would have been significantly more difficult.
So my advice to high schoolers: AP classes are NOT for the weak of heart, nor the lazy. BUT, if you’re up to the daunting task, the benefits are bountiful.
What do our readers think of all this? Please let us know in the comments here or on the Facebook post.
A spreadsheet showing some of the AP and SAT/ACT exam data is below:
Next is a similar document but adding in the data from the four other schools in the county: