District students take record number of AP exams

October 9, 2018

An emphasis in Pasadena ISD on encouraging students to take Advanced Placement exams resulted in more than 7,000 tests administered last year — a record for the district.

Even after supporting grant funding ran out some years ago. Pasadena ISD has continued its practice of paying a $100 incentive to students who earn qualifying scores on AP exams. The push is worth it, say district officials, who see AP classes as better preparing students for post-high school education, including college or trade studies.

“These AP courses are the most rigorous ones, and students need to be challenged in order to be successful in any job they go into,” said Pat Sermas, director of advanced academics at PISD. “There are certain standards in auto mechanics, cosmetology, for an electrician and at a two- or four-year college program.”

She said another goal of the district’s AP program is to move students beyond low-level course work when they go to college.

“We want them not to be taking any remedial classes,” she said. “That’s where we want them to be.”

A qualifying AP exam score, which is 3 or higher on a scale of 1-5, provides course credit when a student goes to college.

The district’s AP program — which was established in 1989 and serves approximately 3,000 kids at the latest count — received two five-year grants from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, first in 2004 and again in 2009. The money allowed for teacher training and the incentive check to students whose exams earned qualifying scores.

The district saw the number of exams taken increase from 448 in 2004 to 4,262 in 2014.

PISD’s board agreed for the district to pick up the slack when the grants ended.

“The school board has been very generous in terms of money for training, sending teachers to Rice University every summer to the College Board Institute,” Sermas said.

Susan Metcalfe, the district’s instruction specialist of advanced academics, agreed the monetary incentives is worth it.

“Continuing this incentive encourages students to participate in AP classes, which motivates them to graduate high school and enter a post-secondary program, whether they earn a qualifying score or not,” she said.

The emphasis on AP classes led the district in May 2017 to be lauded nationally by the College Board as an AP Honor Roll District.

The Pasadena school district offers several AP courses, including in English, mechanics, several foreign languages, U.S. history, music theory, physics and biology. The exams are national tests provided by the College Board.

“You have to put in a lot of personal time for exams of this rigor,” Sermas said. “This type of study is what you have to do in college or trade school.”

She added teachers offer weekends prep sessions and help students delve deeper into the subject material

“We ask all of our students to take the exams, and in all of our AP classes, over 90 percent do,” Sermas said.

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