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Heights High Sees Increase in Number of AP Students, Higher Test Scores
Sep. 21, 2020 -- CH-UH is putting its Equity Policy to good use, addressing long-standing issues of academic disparities head-on.

In 2015, Heights High took a hard look at its twenty-one Advanced Placement courses and discovered that, in a building where the vast majority of students are black, the most rigorous classes were almost entirely white. “We need high expectations for all our students,” said Dr. Alisa McKinnie, an assistant principal. “Regardless of their background.”

The school partnered with Equal Opportunity Schools, a national organization based in Seattle whose mission is “to ensure that students of color and low-income students have equitable access to America’s most academically intense high school programs and succeed at the highest levels.”

The wheels were thus set in motion for a systemic change at Heights High that has resulted in two years of great news: Last fall, Heights was one of nine schools in Ohio to be named to the AP Honor Roll, which recognizes buildings that increase AP participation without a significant reduction in scores. And, with 2020 AP results released this month, Heights High boasted a nearly 20% increase in the number of students earning a score of 3 or higher, the standard for earning college credit.

It took the concerted effort of administrators, teachers and students to get to this point. Building leadership worked with EOS to create a roadmap with three main objectives: accessing opportunity, experiencing success and extending equity. First, they had to delve into the cultural mindsets of both students and teachers through the use of three different surveys. “It took a long time,” admits Dr. McKinnie. “These surveys could last an entire class period.”

The results were eye-opening. Some students didn't know that AP courses existed or how they were beneficial. Some had never been encouraged by teachers, guidance counselors or even their parents to assume a more challenging course load. Some teachers wished that they could teach the higher level courses but felt that task was assigned to an elite few.

After a lot of workshops and focus groups, Dr. McKinnie finally received teacher recommendations for 392 students to enroll in AP classes. They sent letters to parents explaining what AP courses entail, invited students to an ice cream social and launched a series of workshops to prepare students for success in higher-level classes.

As enrollment in AP classes increased from 182 students in 2015 to 343 in 2019, scores did indeed drop, though not enough to be considered “significant” by the College Board, which administers the test. Nationally, between 56 and 59% of students earn a score of 3 or higher; at Heights High, that percentage went from 51% to 38% in those four years. This was not terribly surprising considering the rigor of the coursework and the fact that Heights enforces an AP Contract requiring every student enrolled in an AP class to take the exam, unlike many schools where students can opt out.

But Dr. McKinnie and her team knew they could do better. Through continued focus on achievement and providing individualized support and motivation to AP students (including an AP promotional video produced by students in Cynthia Booker’s Digital Video Production 2 class), those test scores have risen. In 2020, 58% of students earned a 3 or higher, virtually equal to the national average.

Dr. McKinnie believes that even more Heights students can do at least that well, saying “it’s not our job to be gate-keepers,” but to instead throw the doors wide open and “provide experiences and exposures early on. We must keep equity at the center of all we do.”