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Rural Advanced Placement bill gains momentum

Posted: Friday, Apr 5th, 2013

Courier staff writer

VALLEY — Colorado’s Advanced Placement (AP) exam scores are amongst the highest in the nation, and the legislature is close to approving a bill to keep rural students on par with their higher achieving urban peers.

On Tuesday, the House gave Bill 13-1056 preliminary approval, and it now awaits a final roll call vote before the Senate weighs in on the matter. If the bill passes, it would provide funding to rural school district like those in the Valley offering AP classes and tests. It would also reward rural AP teachers whose students pass the exams.

Rep. Jim Wilson, Salida, a freshman Republican and retired superintendent, created the bill, and it met no opposition, but rather several supportive comments, according to reports. The State Education Fund will foot the $710,529 tab, which participating pilot program districts would spend on AP program costs, professional development and to pay AP fees for students who are eligible for free and reduced price lunch. Each teacher or mentor will receive $75 for each student that passes an AP exam, but the payout cannot exceed $2,000. The program would be limited to 10,000 students a year and would expire in 2017.

Colorado rural school districts have 3,000 or fewer total K-12 students, but the bill stipulates districts with less than 6,500 students would qualify for the funding. According to the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) 2012 Pupil Membership Count, all the Valley districts would qualify for the assistance.

Other eligibility factors include that districts have all tenth graders take the PSAT or SAT to help identify students with the potential to pass an AP exam; have an advanced placement class in math science or English; implement a school-wide advanced placement program; and provide professional development opportunities for teachers and administrators.

“This appears to be a good bill for small rural districts, as many of us currently have a difficult time attracting and retaining staff members who are qualified to teach advanced placement courses,” said Center Consolidated School District Superintendent George Welsh in an email on Wednesday. “The idea behind this legislation is to encourage rural districts to set up cooperatives where one qualified teacher could be shared across several schools to offer such opportunities. The Center School District is supportive of this effort.”

Monte Vista School District Superintendent Robert Webb and Del Norte School District Superintendent Nathan Smith agreed.

“I have been watching this since its introduction and agree that the opportunity could be very useful to our valley districts,” Webb said in an email. “Monte is on board especially between proximate districts.”

Smith added, “Del Norte is also in favor of this bill.  We are definitely interested in sharing master teachers through a cooperative.”

In addition, the bill hopes to attract more rural high school students to AP programs. According to reports, a legislative staff analysis found that while about 39 percent of all eligible Colorado students participate in AP courses, only two to seven percent do so in rural districts. Out of the 14 Valley school districts, a total of 348 students in seven districts were enrolled in AP courses during the 2011-2012 school year: Alamosa, 78 students; Sangre de Cristo, 13 students; North Conejos, 115 students; Sanford, 22 students; Monte Vista, 80 students; Sargent, 33 students; and Mountain Valley, 7 students. Out of the 34 possible AP course subject areas, the Valley students only participated in seven: calculus, chemistry, English, government and politics, biology, U.S. History and studio arts, according to CDE statistics.

In February, the College Board stated in the ninth annual AP Report to the Nation that Colorado ranks ninth in the nation for the percentage of the class of 2012 students scoring a three or higher on AP exams.

The report shows the nation’s progress in AP course participation, AP exam results and persisting inequities, according to CDE. This year, the report found more graduates nationwide have succeeded on AP exams today than the number of students that took AP exams in 2002. It also concluded that while states have made great strides in closing equity gaps for underserved minority and low-income students, these students remain underrepresented in AP classrooms and in the population of students scoring a three or higher on AP exams.

Colorado highlights

• The number of Colorado graduates who took an AP exam in high school increased from 17,303 in 2011 to 18,358 in 2012.

• 59.8 percent of Colorado 2012 graduates that took AP exams received a score of three or higher which qualifies them to apply the course work for college credit. The number of graduates that scored a three or higher also increased from 10,692 in 2011 to 11,442 graduates in 2012.

• Colorado ranked sixth in the nation for improving the percentage of graduates scoring a three or higher on an AP exam in the last decade by 10.5 percent.

• Colorado made progress in closing the participation and achievement equity gaps compared to 2011. Hispanic/Latino students made up 22.5 percent of the class of 2012 and 11.6 percent of those students scored a three or higher on an AP exam.

-Courtesy of CDE

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