Governor Gary Herbert and members of his Education Excellence Commission are scheduled to present the "Top AP" High School Traveling Trophy to Park City High School Wednesday afternoon. As a part of the governor's PACE program, the award recognizes PCHS as the top school in the state in Advanced Placement student performance using a measurement system that compiles student data.
The traveling trophy, a Utah history book and plaque, will debut in Park City, making PCHS the first high school to receive to accolade. PACE, an acronym for Prepare young learners, Access for all students, Complete certificates and degrees, and Economic alignment, set a goal to have 66 percent of Utah adults receive a post-secondary degree by the year 2020.
"This is the first time the state used this formula to compare schools AP scores," said PCHS Principal Bob O'Connor. "Everyone thought the award would go to Davis High School due to sheer number of students there taking the AP test, but when they crunched the numbers, Park City was above and beyond. And that's a tribute to the community here."
From 2011 to 2012, the number of students taking AP exams stayed at 539, but the total number of tests jumped from 1,058 to 1,074 with an overall pass rate of 80 percent. Nationally, AP exam pass rates average to 61 percent, and statewide that number is 69 percent.
"The teachers are doing a great job with all our students, and there is an expectation among parents for academic excellence, which equates to higher test scores," O'Connor added.
The College Board Advance Placement program offers college-level courses to high school students nationwide. If students pass the end-of-year tests distributed and monitored through College Board, they may receive college credit. College Board offers 34 different AP exams, from art to physics, comparative politics to environmental science, and high schools select which AP courses to offer from those subjects.
"These are college-level course," said PCHS Assistant Principal Lyndsay Anderson. "The courses are very rigorous, and there is a lot of reading and lectures. It is not as simple as this activity or that activity in class. These courses are very structured."
Tests are graded on a one through five scale, grading a question-and-answer and essay portion. Scores three and above are considered a passing grade to qualify for college credit.
In the classroom, students are expected to work at a higher level than a typical class, meaning more homework, more assigned reading and more lectures that tackle advanced concepts.
"I'm teaching at a higher level and I expect them to produce at a higher level," said Park City High School teacher Jackie Hunden, who teaches AP Economics. "I think passing the test validates what they did all year long, that they did work harder, read more and understood the material. But I don't see these courses as just a way to get college credit. This is a chance to really challenge your own learning, to push yourself academically."
Hunden started teaching the course five years ago, taking college classes at night at the same time she was teaching economics in her classroom. But that meant she understood what material would be most difficult and what she would need to spend extra time on, she said.
This year, Hunden saw a 100 percent pass rate in her classroom on the macro and micro economics exams. Every student will be able to receive college credit for their time in her class, outperforming both state and national pass rates for the exams.
"It's funny because you care as much about the grades as the kids do," she added. "The scores came in and I was shocked. Not only did every student pass, but most got fours and fives.
"What my students have to do to pass the test is harder than what I did to get college credit for these same courses."
Hunden was not the only teacher topping pass rates for AP exams. Janice Jones, the PCHS AP Chemistry teacher, said her class pass rate sits at 80 percent or higher every year, with an 83 percent pass rate for last year's students and a continually growing class size.
"I make this class hard," Jones said, "because I want to push them. I want them to walk out with confidence to do well at next level."
Every year, a handful of students who went off to college return and stop by her classroom to report in. And every year, she hears a similar story. College was easier than they expected. This summer, a student who received an A- in her class came back to tell her that they were second in their college class, a quarter of a point behind the top student.
"These kids have the tools, and I'm guiding them to the finish line," Jones said. "I tell my students that if they make it through the first quarter, they can pass the exam."
FAST FACTS ON PCHS AP SCORES:
Park City High School Pass Rate: 80%
Utah Pass Rate: 69%
National Pass Rate: 61%
Average PCHS AP Test Score: 4.01
AP Economics went from a 93% pass rate in 2011 to a 100% pass rate in 2012.
PCHS boasted 67 AP Scholars, students who received scores of 3 or higher on more than three AP exams, last year.
AP Scholars averaged a 3.21 score on their exams.
PCHS had 25 National AP Scholars, students who received an average score of 4 on all AP exams and scores of 4 of higher on eight or more of these exams.
National AP Scholars averaged 4.55 on their exams.