Black students from six urban district schools in the Atlanta area have been recognized for improved performance on AP (Advanced Placement) exams.
The dictum issued by “Come West 9" school coordinator Chantrise Sims-Holliman is simple and straightforward enough: We do not want mom and dad to have to pay for college. We want college to pay for you.”
And so it’s with that mindset and urging some 50 students, all of them before they even so much as officially enter high school, will gather this summer on the grounds of Fulton County’s Westlake High to partake in a special program on statistics, language and social awareness taught by teachers who specialize in Advanced Placement (AP) classes.
The program is part of a broad effort within the district composed of six urban schools that were recently recognized by a national education group for boosting participation and performance among black students on AP exams, which allows students to take courses for college credit while still in high school.
A recent Broad Foundation report found that the gap in participation and passing rates on AP exams between white and black students remains significant. Of the 75 urban districts analyzed in the report, only the six recognized were improving AP passing rates for black students quickly enough to narrow the achievement gap with white students while increasing or keeping participating levels steady. The districts in the report represent 32 states and the District of Columbia.
Throughout most all the research conducted, one theme of reaching kids as early as possible remained most persistent. At Westlake High, where 98 percent of the student body is black and 58 percent come from low-income families, that attitude serves as the wind beneath the wings for such programs as "Come West 9" and sister initiative "Come West 8," which involves busing in a group of 80 eighth-graders daily during the school year for a half-day of high school-level courses.
"We're reaching all the way down to middle school to identify the kids who are motivated and bring them up," Westlake principal Grant Rivera said. "We can't wait until they are in AP Biology as a junior to prepare them for the rigor of AP. We're prepping them as eighth-graders."
At Westlake High, the number of AP courses has increased in recent years, and freshmen now have access to an AP class. In just a few years, Gramisha Hernandez said she went from teaching one AP English Language and Composition class a day to six.
Meanwhile, in nearby Cobb County, an education specialist now religiously works with kindergartners and first- graders at Clay Elementary in gauging such academic potential. Within that school district, AP passing rates among black students increased three points between 2008 and 2011 to 39 percent, compared with 72 percent for white students during the same period. Still, that was the highest overall passing rate for black students cited in the report.
For Fulton County, AP passing rates among black students increased one point between 2008 and 2011 to 27 percent, compared with 80 percent for white students during that time.
"It has definitely moved from a very exclusive club to one that is more open and available for every student," said Westlake English instructor Gramisha Hernandez, maintains she’s recently gone from teaching one AP level course to now six. "The non-traditional student who might not have been on an honors track, now they can receive the same college-ready class," she said.
And still, it all remains a work in progress. A recent College Board analysis found that only three in 10 black students whose PSAT scores found a high likelihood of success in an AP math class were actually enrolled in one.
“Not only can you survive in a classroom environment, you can thrive if you’ve been taking those AP classes,” preaches Westlake student counselor Rod Fludd.