Tupelo steps up AP emphasis

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The Tupelo School District has increased its offering of Advanced Placement classes during the past three years.
The challenge for district leaders now is encouraging more students to take the AP exam after they compete the course.
AP courses are more rigorous than other classes, and district leaders have been promoting and expanding them as a way to both challenge students and better prepare them for college. Students also can earn college credit from those classes, but to do so, they must pass an optional exam during the spring.
“It prepares them for higher education and higher-order thinking skills and is a way to challenge yourself as a student,” said TPSD Assistant Superintendent Matthew Dillon.
Tupelo High School may offer as many as 20 AP classes this school year, Dillon said during a report to the school board last week. That number could change as students continue to finalize their schedules.
THS has offered 16 AP classes during the past two school years and 13 in 2010. The number of students enrolled in those courses rose from 318 in 2010 to 649 during the recently-completed year. That number counts students for each class they took, so those who took multiple classes are counted multiple times.
The number of students taking exams is much lower, however. Last spring, only 127 of the 649 students (20 percent) took the exam and only 56 passed.
Under Mississippi’s new accountability model, high schools likely will be judged by how many students take AP classes and by how many pass the test. That means it is important for THS to get more students to attempt that exam.
The tests cost students $89, and Superintendent Gearl Loden said the TPSD must consider providing funds to make it free or more affordable. It may also need to provide incentives for taking the test, he said.
Currently, students get extra credit on their grade-point average if they enroll in AP courses but no incentive for taking the test.
Dillon also noted that it is very difficult to pass the test. He said the school will provide tutorial sessions to better prepare students for it.
“Some students say they know they can be successful in the class but are not as confident about the test,” he said.
THS currently has 870 students signed up for AP courses during the upcoming year. The district also is sending several teachers to trainings this summer so they can teach such courses.
Proposed classes include a range of subjects, such as art history, calculus, chemistry, macro economics and psychology, among others.
The district also is working to become the first in the state to offer an International AP diploma. It is trying to add AP classes for foreign language and music theory. That would mean THS would offer all of the classes needed for the diploma. Students would then have to meet AP’s requirements to earn the certification.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com