Enrollment rises for AP courses, schools report

High schools' recruitment efforts seen as successful

Critics predict large classes

April 17, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

Roughly one in five high school students in Anne Arundel County will be taking an Advanced Placement course in the fall, according to projected enrollment data released by school officials yesterday.

The figures -- showing that the number of students enrolled in AP will rise to 4,817 from 2,754 this year -- come two weeks after administrators told the school board that efforts to boost enrollment in the college-level classes have begun to pay off.

But critics say the school system's endeavor to recruit more students into AP is misguided. It has put pressure on students to take high-level courses they aren't necessarily ready to take, some parents say.

Another concern is that there might not be enough teachers familiar with the demanding coursework and that the result will be larger class sizes or watered-down courses, according to some parents and teachers.

"Everybody's not gifted, and we need to be realistic about it," said Julia Pruchniewski, an honors English teacher at South River High School. "So the children who are gifted, they are going to pay the price because they're going to be in overcrowded classes, tended to by overworked and inexperienced teachers."

School officials, however, say they plan to offer teachers a variety of training options this summer -- most of it subsidized -- and they will keep an eye on swelling classes.

Although they acknowledge there are challenges to increasing the number of AP students and the overall number of course offerings, officials say the changes will enable more students to be competitive when they apply for college.

"The more rigorous courses a student takes and succeeds in, the better chance they'll have at performing well on the SAT," said Associate Superintendent Joseph Wise. "Because AP courses are college-level studies, they're one more way to provide advanced materials and curriculum to our students."

Wise said the AP enrollment data are encouraging for another reason: The number of African-American students who signed up for AP classes went up from 193 students this year to 511 next year -- a 165 percent jump. And among students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals, the increase was 270 percent -- from 40 this year to 148 next year.

To get more students interested in taking Advanced Placement courses, the school system administered the PSAT -- a test 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 work.

Counselors and teachers used the PSAT results to encourage average students to consider taking AP courses and high-achieving students to take a greater variety of AP classes.

"I think, over the long term, it's a desirable goal to offer these opportunities to as many students as possible," said Terra Snider, whose daughter is an AP student at Severna Park High. "But in the short term, before there is adequate time to prepare staff and students, it makes a mockery of what an AP course is," Snider said.

Wise disputed the notion that AP coursework will be less demanding next year.

"I reject, and the superintendent rejects, that any Advanced Placement courses are going to be watered down," he said. "Because of the strength of our teacher core, we have little to no chance of that playing out."

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