Spring Break? Who gets a break?
Tommy Brown was poised, and looked seasoned at the podium, as he addressed the 17 Park City High School student council members during their weekly meeting in teacher Caleb Fine’s classroom.
Despite it being Monday after spring break, Brown, the senior class president, explained he and his classmates are a little worn on the edges from studying for AP (advanced placement) exams, not lounging on the beach during break or a case of senioritis, laughed the leader of the student body.
There may be some truth behind the senior’s claims. Last year, Governor Gary Herbert and members of his Education Excellence Commission presented the "Top AP" High School Traveling Trophy to the school at the beginning of this school year. The first school to be awarded the honor in the state.
According to PCHS teacher, Ed Potts, it’s students and teachers against the College Board, when AP testing starts its two-week decent on the school next Monday. In reality, the struggle begins the first day of school for the abundance of Park City students preparing for college, he added.
"At the beginning of the school year we look at the College Board as the antagonist in this situation, and we are able to tackle the problem as a team," said Potts, an AP creative writing teacher. "Usually, we as teachers fill this role. If we spin it this way, I look like a teacher helping students acquire college credit, saving students lots of money next year."
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, has been showcased at the school all year, but it is up to the students if the award will remain at the school.
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 post-secondary degrees by 2020.
Students who attend AP classes at the high school start preparing for the end of the year exams at the beginning of the school year, explained Potts. Reviews, along with practice exams, test taking strategies and constant assignments dispensed throughout the year, help make PCHS the top performer in AP test taking in the state.
Student council members attending the morning meeting, commended teachers for their "college mentality," when it came to their dedication to academic excellence this late in the school year.
"The teachers here have a higher expectation for us, and I guess that gets passed along to the students," said Ryan Carlson, a senior at PCHS. "We spend all year getting ready for that one test. Without the support system we have here, I don’t think we’d get the results we do."
During the 2011-2012 school year, 539 students took 1,074 AP exams at the school, with an overall pass rate of 78 percent. Nationally, AP exam pass rates average to 62 percent, and statewide that number is slightly higher at 69 percent, according to data in a five-year score summary provided by the school.
There are 1,000 ways to tell a story, but only one way to approach the AP exams, explained Potts.
"We need to approach teaching in two parts," said Potts. "We need to teach students the subject material, but we also need to prepare them to be great test takers. I don’t like focusing completely on this teaching method, but the trend education is going in with these high stake tests, they’re making the rules."
Dara Smith, AP coordinator at PCHS, has ordered 1,110 exams for the abundance of students prepared to take test, which will determine if college credit will be earned.
Tests are graded on a one-to-five scale. Scores three and above are considered a passing grade to qualify for college credit. Last year 422 students out of the 539 made this mark.
"The students here are college-bound, so they are willing to do everything the teachers suggest in order to succeed," Smith said. "We have phenomenal educators, who prepare, challenge and encourage our students for situations like these. We’re No. 1 for a reason. We have more kids that pass."
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The Park City Board of Education is on track to place a bond on the ballot this fall to improve district facilities. The top priorities would be to put ninth grade in the high school, eighth grade in the middle school and to augment preschool offerings by expanding elementary schools.