Plan works on AP classes

More students are taking college-level courses

Initiative is in its first year

Schools chief used PSAT as guide for potential

April 03, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

An initiative by Anne Arundel County schools to increase the number of students taking college-level courses in high school has begun to yield results in its first year, officials said yesterday.

The number of enrollments in Advanced Placement (AP) courses has more than doubled to nearly 10,000 for the next academic year, from 4,430 this year. And that's before the final count is due April 15.

Last fall, Superintendent Eric J. Smith administered the PSAT - typically taken by students as practice for the SAT - to all ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders, intending to use the results as a diagnostic tool to determine each student's potential for success in AP courses.

After analyzing the test results, schools sent letters home in February listing the AP classes in which students were deemed likely to succeed based on their PSAT performance.

The reaction from parents has been encouraging, officials said. Hundreds of parents and students, some of whom had not before considered taking AP courses, have attended informational sessions to learn more about the courses.

Guidance coordinator Diane H. Finch said the preliminary enrollment figures looked so good that she decided to share them with board members yesterday afternoon.

For board member Konrad Wayson, the initiative hit home.

"I don't know how you guys did it, but you got my two kids signed up in AP classes," Wayson told Finch and others at the board meeting. He has two boys who attend Southern High School in Harwood.

The AP enrollment initiative has had a second effect: an increase in the number of AP courses offered by each school. Southern High, for one, has added four AP classes - English language, macroeconomics, microeconomics and psychology - to satisfy student demand, said Principal Paul Vandenberg.

Board members voted yesterday to require AP students to sit for end-of-year AP exams to receive the extra boost to their grade point averages that comes from taking a challenging class.

Student board member Ashley Nathanson said she hopes the grading-policy change will encourage more students to attempt the test, which they must pass to get college credit. Many students take the classes but skip the tests, she said. The superintendent has sought funding in next year's budget to pay the $72 fees for 4,200 AP exams.

In other action, the board voted 6-1, with one member absent, to close aging Ferndale Elementary School. The oldest part of the school would be torn down and reconstructed as a regional center for kindergartners and prekindergartners who qualify because they are from low-income families or have special learning needs.

Board member Paul Rudolph, who voted against the plan, said he would have preferred seeing the leaky, 77-year-old school renovated, instead of the construction of a regional center.

The school system will use $450,000 from this year's budget to get part of the Ferndale building ready to open this fall. The 2004 budget submitted by the school board seeks an additional $4.25 million to construct the rest of the center.

"I believe I can restore that facility as an elementary school for that price," Rudolph said after the meeting. "That's a lot of money for a [regional] center."

Officials also presented a report recommending that milk and meal prices at schools may need to be raised next year. Business services Director Robert C. Leib said the increases are needed to cover risingfood costs, salaries and benefits.

If the board approves the increases when it votes in May, the price of milk would go up cents to 40 cents from 30; breakfast to $1 from 70 cents; elementary school lunch to $1.50 from $1.10; and middle and high school lunch to $1.75 from $1.10. Prices have not increased since 1992.

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