Despite increasing enrollment in Advanced Placement classes, almost 70 percent of students in the New Haven School District still fail their AP exams.
While students in Connecticut’s public schools passed nearly 71 percent of their AP exams in 2012, New Haven students passed only about 32.9 percent of their exams. Despite the gap in test performance, administrators at NHPS said it is more important that students are exposed to AP-level material than whether they pass the exam.
“We want to get as many kids exposed to the Advanced Placement rigor as possible,” said Frank Costanzo, principal of Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School. “Kids who might be on the cusp of getting into the AP, we believe giving them a shot is well worth it.”
The demographic makeup of AP courses in Costanzo’s school has begun in recent years to resemble that of the entire student body, Costanzo said. He added that a larger proportion of minority students are interested in college as a result of increased exposure to college-level material.
The percentage of Caucasian students sitting for AP exams in Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School dropped from 35.4 percent in 2010 to 15.9 percent in 2013. In addition, the number of Hispanic students sitting for exams rose from about 25 percent to 42.3 percent, Costanzo said.
The AP program will continue to expand within the school district, said Dr. Dolores Garcia-Blocker, New Haven Public School director of college and career pathways.
Expansion of the AP program entails offering more classes, allowing students to take classes in other high schools and providing College Board training to a broader array of teachers, Garcia-Blocker said.
“The research shows that kids who take Advanced Placement courses and at least have a glimpse of what it is like to take a college-level course and college-level work tend to persist in college and earn their college degrees,” she added.
The low scores on the AP exams are not the district’s primary concern, said Garcia-Blocker, adding that while the district would like to see scores increase over time they are not going to determine the success or failure of the district’s AP program.
While members of the school district see promise in the increasing number of students sitting for AP exams, the low rates of success on the exams have prompted discussion outside of the district.
“The city-wide scores are nearly 40 points below the state average, so clearly there’s some work to be done to make sure that kids who are participating in the Advanced Placement courses are mastering that content,” said Jennifer Alexander, CEO of ConnCan, an education non-profit.
Mark Abraham ’04, Executive Director of DataHaven, agreed that New Haven students’ test performance reflects larger trends that signify low levels of college readiness.
Poor AP test performance might be the end of a trajectory starting from poor classroom performance and fewer educational opportunities in elementary school, Abraham said.
New Haven Public Schools currently offer 21 different AP courses.