AP classes about more than scores

Even if not every student passed the Advanced Placement exam, merely being exposed to the more rigorous course work leading up to the exam makes students stronger in the long run, Burbank Unified officials say.

“The rigor is there. It gets them to think at a higher level,” Burbank Unified Supt. Jan Britz said. “That really produces a far stronger student from that exposure, even though they may not pass the AP exam.”

Five years ago, Burbank Unified opened up the AP exams — which allow high school students to earn college credit and get a leg up on the application process — to more students. But that hasn't necessarily meant higher pass rates. In fact, they've either remained flat or decreased.

In 2011, 34% of Burbank High students passed the European history AP exam compared to 22% who passed the test last May.

Last year, 24% of Burbank students passed Government & Politics compared to 11% this year.

At Burroughs, 53% of students passed the U.S. history exam in 2011 compared to 59% in 2012.

Thirty-four percent of AP students passed the Government & Politics exam at Burroughs this year — down from the 44% who passed the exam in 2011.

“If you look at the scores, to be honest with you, they're very flat,” Emilio Urioste, director of secondary education, said at last Thursday's school board meeting.

Urioste said one factor in the Government & Politics result could be that the class is taught for one semester instead of over a full school year.

“You're having to undergo a lot of material — very intense material — in a semester,” he said.

Despite little growth in the percentage of those who do pass the various AP exams, district officials say the system benefits students by exposing them to the more difficult study material.

School board member Roberta Reynolds said her colleagues expected “there was going to be more struggling” ever since the district allowed more students to take AP classes.

But having more students go through the AP system has its own pay-offs, officials say.

At Burbank High, 43% scored a “3” or better on the Biology test this year compared to 25% in 2011.

The AP exams with the highest passing rate were U.S. History, English and Language Composition and Calculus. Seventy percent or more students passed those tests.

“I think that it's really a wonderful opportunity for students to access challenging courses and be able to challenge themselves to be college-ready,” Urioste said.

Follow Kelly on Twitter @kellymcorrigan.

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