AP program sees more students, better scores

Alex Holmes

The percentage of students who achieved a passing score of a three, four, or five on their AP exams at Wilson rose from 52 percent to 54 percent over the last school year.  While a two percent increase may seem insignificant, Principal Kimberly Martin believes it is a marked sign of progress, given that the number of AP students and AP exams taken rose as well.

For the 2017-2018 school year, 846 AP students took 1,958 AP exams, according to Martin. Last school year, those numbers became 933 and 2,166. 

College and Career Services Director Patrice Arrington feels that this is a natural progression of AP expansion. “As the number of students and tests that are given go up, we have an increase in scores,” she said. “We have very good teachers and as long as the students and teachers are working hard to be prepared for the exam, the scores will continue to rise.”

Martin sees this growth as a win for the Honors for All initiative, which she started two years ago. The goal of Honors for All is to diversify rigorous courses, including AP classes. Martin has already been vocal about the program’s success in diversifying the classroom and benefitting the school.

However, not everyone shared Martin’s enthusiasm about Honors for All. Some claimed that it would lead to a drop in AP percentage, or passage rates. “And that in fact didn’t happen,” said Martin, who sees the two percent hike as a rebuttal to those naysayers. “We saw a mild increase, but an increase nonetheless.”

This year’s numbers mean a lot to Martin, who began working at Wilson in 2015. That year, the AP percentage was 47 percent. “Probably my second year or third year was when we crossed the 50 percent mark which I felt great about. And now we’re at 54,” said Martin. The highest AP percentage of her Wilson tenure clearly means something is going right.

Martin suspects that the main cause was “…our school wide focus on writing, informational text, and on critical reading of text[s].” She cited DBQs (document-based questions) in social studies classes and annotation of texts in English classes as significant factors.

Those types of close readings in honors classes she also credits with making students more comfortable in an AP environment. “The focus on reading… increased the scores and encouraged more students to feel comfortable taking AP classes,” claimed Martin.

 Though this year’s results were a success, Martin wants to continue pushing for more inclusivity, higher scores, and getting more students to take AP classes.

One major factor holding back schoolwide scores are the seniors. “By the time AP exams come around, they just don’t care anymore. They’re so overschooled, they’re a little bit checked out,” said Martin. 

Encouraging students to sign up for APs, she bemoaned the current grade-obsession fever: “I wish that we could create the kind of culture where students realize that earning a C sometimes in a class is really a badge of honor and sometimes earning an A in a class is really no reward at all.”

The kind of experiences she wants are exemplified by one student who Martin was particularly impressed by. “I remember talking to an English Language Learner who was taking her AP English [test].” The student struggled with some of the literature but remained determined and studied hard. “In her case, I think she ended up with a two [on the exam], but it wasn’t a one. And it was very much a success.”