By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – Tupelo High School seniors can earn a new distinction when they graduate next May.
Hoping to increase the number of students who take Advanced Placement courses, the school has created an advanced studies diploma. To qualify, students must have 28 credits – two more than are required for a standard diploma – and a 3.5 quality-point-average and must have taken at least four AP classes.
Although it will carry the same weight as a traditional diploma, the certificate will denote the recognition.
“It adds a little more prestige to your diploma,” said Tupelo High Principal Jason Harris. “It shows you have gone above and beyond and taken more rigorous courses.”
Advanced Placement classes are designed to more closely resemble college ones. At the end of the course, students can take an exam on which they can earn college credit. Exams are scored from 1 to 5, and typically a 3 or higher is needed for college credit, although individual schools have different rules.
Last year, 72 Tupelo High students took a total of 99 AP exams, according to a report Harris made on Tuesday to the district’s School Board. Of those, 53 test scores were eligible for college credit, with 36 3s, 14 4s and three 5s. Meanwhile, the school had 35 2s and 11 1s.
The high school’s mean score for 2014 was a 2.63, Harris said. That is higher than the state average of 2.25 and lower than the national and global averages of 2.87 and 2.89 respectively.
The highest number of exams was for English Language, with 31 students taking that test. Twelve of them earned a 3 or greater.
Harris said his goal is not only to increase scores, but also grow the number of students who take the test. Last year, the school had 700 seats occupied in AP courses, despite taking only 99 exams. The biggest hindrance, Harris said, is students not understanding the value of the exam and the opportunity to earn college credit.
“For one, you can see how you score, and it is a great indicator of college success,” Harris said. “Also, you are able to receive a college credit, and everyone knows the cost of college classes. It makes it more feasible for parents.”
As a new incentive, AP students who take the exam this year will have two points added to their final average for the class. Also, Harris said, the school has received a grant from Toyota that will help cover part of the $91 exam fee.
“It is a culture shift,” Harris said. “We need to change the culture that when you enroll in the course, it is expected and understood you will take the exam.”
Beginning in the 2015-16 school year, changes in the state accountability formula will use both AP class enrollment and the performance on AP tests as a factor in how high schools are ranked.
For the upcoming school year, THS will offer 35 sections of AP courses, with about 650 seats currently filled.