For a decade, Cedar Rapids Washington High School has topped the annual Iowa AP Index, a measure of school participation in Advanced Placement courses.
From 2009 to 2018, Washington was No. 1 on the index, which is published by the University of Iowa College of Education’s Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development.
The index ranks high schools based on the percentage of their students taking AP exams. The tests determine whether students receive college credit after completing accelerated classwork in high school.
Washington’s index score, found by dividing the number of tests taken at the school by its number of graduates, maxed out at 3.93 in 2014. In 2018, it was 3.02 and still higher than any other school in Iowa.
Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids also has ranked high on the index, usually in the top five. Jefferson High School has averaged a ranking of about 30th.
According to the Belin-Blank Center, being enrolled in an AP class can help students learn effective study skills, perseverance and prime them for college coursework.
“AP has historically been kind of considered the gold standard for rigorous coursework at the high school level,” Belin-Blank’s Kristin Flanary told The Gazette in 2016.
WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE
While schools like West High in Iowa City have worked to boost AP enrollment — West is ranked No. 5 in the 2019 ranking — high schools in Cedar Rapids have fallen in the rankings.
This year, Washington High School ranked seventh on the AP Index, with a score of 2.1. The top spot this year went to Rivermont Collegiate in Bettendorf (4.71), followed by Valley High in West Des Moines (2.7). Cedar Rapids Kennedy was in sixth place, with a 2.23 ranking.
“That No. 1 matters to people,” Cedar Rapids Schools Superintendent Noreen Bush said. “And it’s part of who we are and how some of our high schools have been identified as rigorous environments.”
But, Bush said, the drop in Washington’s index score is more of a reflection of the district’s emphasis on other options in addition to AP coursework.
“AP content continues to be a strong component in our organization,” said Bush, who is working in an interim capacity until June 2021. “ … We’ve just provided more opportunities, and that may have impacted the enrollment in some of our AP courses.”
The Cedar Rapids district has a stated mission to provide students “multiple pathways,” she said. Those include AP, career and technical education, dual enrollment, Project Lead the Way, business and career academies, job shadows, internships and Iowa BIG.
Bush said the district is working to improve equity in all those programs rather than focusing solely on AP enrollment.
“All three of our (comprehensive high) schools have been looking at this from an equity lens,” she said. “Washington has been a leader on that for a long time, in making sure every student felt as though they could enroll in an AP course. We’ve been leaning on Wash in that area, but also we know we could do better.”
AP courses continue to benefit Cedar Rapids students, Bush said.
“Although maybe our percentages have fallen somewhat, I wouldn’t say it’s because we discount it,” she said. “We want to continue to celebrate and offer it — we just want kids to have multiple exposures to lots of things.”
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