HISD celebrates AP ‘Ramp Up’ by honoring those who teach advanced courses

More than 500 Advanced Placement (AP) teachers shouted ‘I AM AP’ at HISD’s inaugural AP Ramp Up Celebration, which recognized AP teachers for helping students get a head start on college.

“This is not just about the kids who are able to go to college, but those who get to college and are so much more prepared because they already have college credits through our AP program,” said Carolyn Klein, who teaches AP environmental science at Westside High School.

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The program was held at Westbury High School, which the district recently announced will be its first school to focus heavily on AP curriculum. The decision comes after the school community recently expressed a desire to raise student academic expectations as the school welcomes a new principal on board. Students in all grade levels will be urged to enroll in at least one pre-AP or AP course. Students who receive a 3 or higher on AP course exams are eligible to receive college credit.

At the ninth-grade level, Westbury students may now enroll in two pre-AP courses. Tenth-graders may enroll in pre-AP classes as well as an AP course. Students in grades 11-12 may enroll in two AP courses.

“If I’m a kid in ninth grade at Westbury, and I take every AP course Westbury offers, I have the opportunity to earn 45 college credits for free,” said Westbury Principal Jason Catchings. “Students may be able to save about $30,000 on college costs depending on the college. Now, we’re giving students who may not have been able to afford college an opportunity to go, graduate from college earlier, and perhaps even enter the workforce earlier, which will ultimately increase their earning potential.”

In 2014, Westbury students took a total of 987 AP exams in 15 subjects. Since 2009, AP participation at the school has increased by 83 percent and the number of AP exams scoring at a 3 or higher has increased by 112 percent.

Chavez High School graduate Felipe Guillen, who passed 10 AP exams and will head to Stanford University in the fall, says he was lucky to have AP teachers who challenged him to excel in class.

“My AP classes exposed me to what was unfamiliar to me – the gilded age, the art of rhetoric, analysis, fine art, and (Miguel de) Cervantes,” Guillen said. “By obtaining this knowledge, my perspective of the world changed. Thank you to all of the teachers who have provided students like me this opportunity.”

Following the program, teachers participated in curriculum training for various AP courses such as biology, calculus, and literature. The training includes strategies that AP teachers can utilize to increase the rigor and quality of instructional practices throughout the academic year.

During the 2013-2014 school year, the district saw significant gains in AP exam scores at campuses like Sterling High School, where the number of students who passed the AP Spanish exam increased by 100 percent, said HISD College Readiness Assistant Superintendent Rick Cruz.

A recent College Board report shows that HISD students scored a 3 or higher on more than 8,000 AP exams. The number of AP exams with a score of 3 or higher increased by more than 400 from the previous year at HISD, while the number of AP exams at the lowest scoring level of 1 decreased by 700.

“Kids who take AP courses benefit if they don’t score a 3, 4, or 5,” said HISD Superintendent Dr. Terry Grier. “If they just score a 1 or 2, their likelihood of being successful in college or even going to college is increased significantly.”