Education News

Feb 20, 2012 11:17 AM by Brittany Wooley (KTVQ Billings)

Record number of MT students completing college-level courses

BILLINGS- A record number of Montana students are doing college-level work in high school and receiving university credit for it. Students have the option of taking courses in various subjects titled Advanced Placement (AP).

The College Board offers AP exams in 34 different subjects at the end of the school year and if students score high enough, many universities will award credit or exemption from an intro class.

A new report by the College Board indicates a 22% increase in Montana students who took exams from 2007 to 2011 while the Billings School District reports a 24% increase.

Hayley How is enrolled in three of the six advanced placement courses offered at Billings Senior High.

"It really encourages you to work hard because you know that next year if you're in college, you're going to be ahead of the game and know what you're doing. You won't have the boring classes that you already know what you're doing," How said.

Billings Senior High AP Literature and Composition teacher Kate Cordes said her AP classes differ significantly from her on-level courses.

"What we're reading is at a much higher level than what they would encounter elsewhere. What they're writing is definitely at a much higher level. It's a lot more focused and a lot more formal, and again what they're going to see in college. In the other classes, you're trying to make it as positive of an experience for a wide variety of students," Cordes said.

Billings schools don't offer any AP courses in the sciences or many of the more specialized subject areas the College Board has tests for. However, students can sign up for whatever exam they want, even without taking the course.

"Despite not having AP Biology or Chemistry, we've had students sit through those exams, and take them," Billings School District Director of Assessment Carrie Miller said.

Not only are more students taking exams, they're passing. In 2011, 65-percent of the Billings students who took an exam scored at least a three on the five-point scale, qualifying them for college credit.

"We definitely offer good core subjects, but it could be better. If it were better, it would make our students more competitive against their counterparts from even elsewhere in the state of Montana but especially nationally because most districts of this size offer quite a few more courses," Cordes said.

Some students are hesitant to take on the harder course load because they fear it will affect their grade point average.

"Any admissions counselor I've talked to, say they absolutely look at the courses a student takes when considering grade point average, and they almost always say they would take a student with say B's who has taken honors and advanced placement classes over the student who hasn't and has straight A's," Cordes said.

"In Montana, just one out of every four kids that enters college will actually receive a bachelors degree in four years. Research shows that a student who takes an A.P. course is more likely to graduate with a bachelors degree from college. I think you find once you get to college, those grades in high school don't matter as much as being able to stay in college and do well," Miller said.

Billings students took more than 300 AP tests in 2011, and Montana students took almost 2,800 exams. Students can take more than one test.

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