County schools fall below state average on AP exams; some see improvements


HANCOCK COUNTY — The number of local students who passed Advanced Placement exams for college credit fell below the state average this year, but school officials say they’re encouraged by gains in the number of students passing year over year.

Across the state, about 51 percent of students who took an AP exam achieved a score that qualifies them for college credit.

Despite falling below that mark, Mt. Vernon and Greenfield-Central high schools are edging closer to being in line with that average and expect improved results in 2016. New Palestine High School saw a slight increase in its results from previous years. Scores for Eastern Hancock High School weren’t available.

The exams are graded on a scale of one to five, and students must receive a score of three or higher to qualify for credit at most universities and colleges.

Mt. Vernon students came closest to the statewide average with about 48 percent scoring a three or higher. Although he wants to see students do better, high school Principal Bernie Campbell is encouraged by the figures, which increased by nearly 8 percentage points from 2014.

Mt. Vernon requires all students enrolled in AP courses to take the final assessments, whereas at the other three county schools, taking the exams is optional. Campbell said the requirement might impact the school’s overall percentage of students who pass the exams, but he believes the exams help prepare students for college.

“It’s a way to condition them for the high-stakes tests that most of them will encounter when they enter college,” Campbell said. “These tests make that clear, and the benefit of that far outweighs the detriment of seeing our overall pass rate a little lower than the state average.”

Greenfield-Central High School saw about 46 percent of the 271 students who took the assessments pass. That figure is up from 34 percent in 2014, and assistant superintendent Ann Vail said she’s happy with the scores but would still like to see more growth.

“We’re not satisfied yet, … but we continue to look for improvements, and we’re certainly seeing those happen,” Vail said.

She said teachers and administrators are looking at ways to tweak instruction in AP courses to make sure students are adequately prepared for the exams.

The tests cost a fraction of the tuition for a college course, she said. They also provide students an opportunity to get prerequisite courses out of the way before entering their freshman year.

“Some of our students have even entered college with enough credits to be considered as having sophomore standing, which can save them time and money,” she said.

About 38 percent of students from New Palestine passed the exams. Of the 332 exams taken, students passed 127. That’s a slight increase from the previous year, when students passed about 36 percent of their AP exams.

Curriculum director Rhonda Peterson said the district is making a concerted effort to improve those results for this school year.

“We plan to benchmark ourselves against other local and state schools that scored well, then assess what they’re doing to achieve that,” she said.

She added that one of the issues the district is noticing is that many students overload themselves on AP courses and aren’t able to keep up with the required work.

“Some take five AP courses at a time, and that’s on top of sports or band and other things,” she said. “We’re going to look at how we can help kiddos find a balance so they can achieve what they set out for.”

Most importantly, she said, the district is going to look at the content being taught to gauge the best options to help boost its scores.

“We’re going to look at the curriculum first and foremost to make sure we’re truly teaching and prioritizing the skills those students need for the exams,” she said.