slides: Worcester Average AP Pass Rate Is 34% Below The State Average
Monday, October 21, 2013
Among the city’s public high schools, South High Community offers the most AP courses at 14 and Worcester Technical High offers the least at 3, well below the state average of 10. Doherty Memorial High and North High both offer more courses than the state average, at 11 each.
ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom, collected and analyzed data from the 2009-10 school year from the federal Department of Education’s (DOE) Office of Civil Rights. The data, which included demographic information on school districts nationwide, were originally collected to determine patterns of discrimination in US schools.
Lower Expectations for Urban Youth
“Looking at this data, it is clear that students in Worcester have far fewer opportunities to participate in AP courses and gifted programs which will translate directly to lower likelihoods of students in these schools attending elite colleges, or any colleges at all,” said Melissa F. Weiner, assistant professor of sociology at the College of the Holy Cross.
“These phenomena reflect a longstanding dearth of these programs in urban areas that reflect not only financial considerations but also the district's lower expectations for students,” she said. “These may lead parents with high-performing children to transfer out of the district. But more likely, it means that the academic potential of the entire city's student population is not being recognized or nurtured.”
AP Pass Rates Way Below State Average
Every public high school in Worcester has an AP pass rate significantly below the state average of 64 percent, bringing the Worcester School District’s average to 30 percent. Burncoat Senior High has the District’s highest pass rate at 42 percent and Claremont Academy has its lowest at 14 percent. Claremont Academy also includes the seventh and eighth grades. Despite South High Community’s offering the most AP courses, its pass rate is below the state average at only 26 percent, meaning that nearly three-quarters of students who take an AP course at South High Community fail.
In its analysis of the data, ProPublica found that, regardless of the number of AP courses offered, success in those courses depended largely upon one key factor: class. Schools with a large population of poor students often had lower AP pass rates. The number of poor students was determined by the number who were getting free or reduced price lunch through a federal program for low-income families.
At Claremont Academy, which has the lowest AP pass rate in Worcester, 94 percent of students receive free or reduced price lunch. At Burncoat Senior High, which has the city’s highest AP pass rate, the number drops to only 56 percent.
A Path to Success
Despite those dismal numbers, John Monfredo, a member of the Worcester School Committee, said the District is working hard to increase its AP opportunities and students’ success.
“Into the Beyond”, he said, “is a Worcester Public School initiative designed to increase student participation and success in AP by strengthening curriculum pathways leading to AP, expanding access to AP courses, enhancing teacher knowledge and practice, and increasing support for teachers.”
He said the initiative is partly funded by the DOE’s Advanced Placement Initiative, and that it operates alongside the statewide Massachusetts Math and Science Initiative (MMSI).
“The program from MMSI provides extensive training for AP and pre-AP teachers, additional student preparation, and performance-based financial incentives for students and teachers. It also offers extra training for teachers, up to three Saturday sessions for students,” Monfredo said.
He said that the Worcester Public Schools currently offer 22 AP courses, and have set a goal to reach 33 AP courses, resources permitting.
How Worcester Stacks Up
Compared to statewide numbers, Worcester appears to offer its students equal opportunity. The Massachusetts and Worcester average for the number of AP courses offered is 10. Yet a little digging reveals that major discrepancies exist, and Worcester is lagging behind. While the AP pass rate in Massachusetts is 64 percent, in Worcester that number plummets to a dismal 30 percent. Seventy percent of Worcester students taking AP courses fail.
According to ProPublica’s analysis, increasing higher education opportunities for Worcester students will take more than a simple increase in the number of AP courses offered. The efforts Monfredo mentions may very well be a step in the right direction.
Related Slideshow: AP Opportunities at Worcester’s High Schools
According to ProPublica, studies have shown that students who take advanced classes have increased chances of attending and finishing college. However, with the number of advanced placement (AP) courses offered at Worcester's public high schools varying significantly, not every student is given the same chance. The slides, below, show the Worcester public high schools whose students have the most and least AP opportunities to help them get into - and graduate from - college.
The below data were collected from the Civil Rights Data Set, released by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Right, and refers to the 2009-10 school year. The data were analyzed by ProPublica.
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