GLENDALE — Despite fewer students enrolling in Glendale Unified schools in recent years, the number of students passing advanced placement exams rose last year to a new five-year high, officials said.
More than 2,280 students, almost double the number of total students at Clark Magnet High School, passed an AP exam last year. The number of tests taken and the number of students enrolled in AP classes also reached new five-year highs.
Expanding access to the college-level AP courses began in the last several years, and has been a source of some controversy, said Joylene Wagner, vice president of the Glendale Unified Board of Education.
Some educators have expressed concern that some students aren't adequately prepared for the college-level coursework, thereby setting them up for failure.
But the results presented Tuesday prove that students respond positively when they're challenged academically, Wagner added.
"The evidence is that it does benefit students," she said. "We should be challenging our students."
District officials released the data at a school board meeting Tuesday as part of a regular presentation of internal and government-mandated assessments.
"It not only provides us with a gauge as to how we're doing, but it also allows us to look back and identify where there is an area of need," said Katherine Thorossian, the assistant superintendent of educational services. "We're doing well, and that's not just a feeling. It's supported by evidence."
While the academic performance across Glendale Unified bests the state and county average, there's still work to be done, officials said. A textbook program was phased in this year that Thorossian said could help students who are learning English as a second language, or roughly 25% of Glendale Unified students.
District officials included English language learners as part of its "urgent message," an area of need where student achievement was lacking compared with the broader student body, Thorossian said.
"Where your greatest area of need is, you try and divert resources to meet that gap and help bridge it," she said. "It is our greatest area of need, and so our resources should be used to help address that need."
That English language learners need additional academic resources was underscored with the release of federal data that dinged several Glendale campuses. English language learners at several sites did not meet their federal targets, pushing those schools onto a watch list.
"You see the disconnect between the continued progress in the schools and the penalties that are being wielded," Wagner said. "A tremendous amount of progress has been made in these intervening years, and that feels good."
District officials also reported disciplinary action has declined in the last five years. In the 2009-10 school year, 3,351 students were suspended, compared with 4,882 in 2005.
Expulsions also declined from 35 in 2005-06 to 28 last school year.