QHS students excelling on Advanced Placement exams

Students participate in Ron Bridal's Advanced Placement psychology class at Quincy High School. QHS students far exceeded the state average in their performance on Advanced Placement tests. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Posted: Mar. 8, 2013 11:09 am Updated: Mar. 22, 2013 12:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

The percentage of Quincy High School students receiving a passing grade on Advanced Placement tests was well above the state average in 2012, QHS officials announced this week.

High school students enrolled in AP courses are eligible to take a special AP exam near the end of the school year to see if they qualify to receive college credit based on the test results, graded on a scale of 1 to 5. Students generally need at least a 3 to qualify for college credit, though some colleges demand a 4 or 5 before awarding credit.

At QHS, 79.8 percent of the 119 students who took AP exams last May scored a 3 or higher. That's significantly higher than the state average of 67.2 percent.

Students in some QHS courses do especially well on the AP exam. For example, 90 percent of the 72 students from Ron Bridal's AP Psychology class who took the exam last spring received a passing grade, meaning they are considered "college-ready" in that subject. Of those 72 students, 17 received a 5 -- the highest score possible -- indicating their knowledge of the subject is regarded as "distinguished."

Jody Steinke, assistant principal for curriculum and instruction, attributes the good results to the school's devoted teachers and the training they receive to teach the 14 AP courses offered.

"We've got a long, successful history with AP, and it's the teachers that make the difference," Steinke said. "They are committed to providing college opportunities in high school, and they devote a tremendous amount of time and effort to making sure that happens."

The Illinois State Board of Education says the number of Illinois graduates who took AP exams in high school has more than doubled in the past decade. In 2012, 40,653 graduates took at least one AP exam during high school, with 26,400 getting a 3 or more. Ten years ago, only 18,833 Illinois graduates had taken an AP exam.

The reason for the increase may have to do with financial incentives for performing well. By notching a qualifying score of 3 or higher, a student can earn college credit and save thousands of dollars in tuition costs.

Steinke said it's not uncommon for a student to arrive at college with a full semester of credits from AP classes taken in high school.

He said a student doesn't necessarily have to take an AP course to take the AP exam in a particular subject, but it usually helps.

Last year, one exceptionally bright QHS student took four AP courses and took six AP tests -- "and did well on every single one of them," Steinke said.

Bridal agreed "there is a big financial benefit" if a student performs well on the AP exams, which are taken voluntarily for $88 each. For example, he told of several QHS graduates who went to St. Louis University, where the tuition is roughly $20,000 a year.

"If you take an $88 exam (and earn college credits), it could equal $2,000 in tuition they don't have to pay for," he said. "So there is a definite economic advantage to taking it -- in addition to being better prepared for college."

Bridal and Steinke said not all colleges treat AP exam results the same when dispensing credits.

"Each university is different in terms of what they accept," Bridal said. For example, he said, "the University of Missouri only accepts 4 (or higher) while the University of Illinois only accepts a 5, but the majority of schools accept a 3."

Steinke said "each college will do some things individually" with regard to AP test results.

"Some of them will say if you have a 5 on the AP Language exam, they're going to waive you from taking Composition 101. Other schools might actually give you the three hours and waive it, so that's really a six-hour swing," he said. "For every different class, there might be 50 different scenarios depending on what school you're going to."

QHS offers AP courses in art history, studio art (2-D design), language and composition, literature and composition, psychology, European history, U.S. history, German, Spanish, statistics, calculus AB, calculus BC, chemistry and physics.

"They're not for everybody, but we pretty much have open enrollment," Steinke said. "If you want to put forth the effort and are willing to work hard, we'll let you take them."

He noted that AP courses are challenging because they are designed to meet college-level criteria established by the College Board.

"If you've never had a chemistry course and you're going to try to take AP Chemistry, you're probably in trouble," Steinke said. "Most of those kids take Honors Chemistry first and then go into AP Chemistry."

Bridal said AP courses have traditionally targeted "high-fliers" -- students who routinely perform at a high level academically.

"But the College Board and Quincy High School lately have challenged some kids who have not been our typical AP-style student to take these courses, because we think there is a real benefit in taking a college level class in high school," he said.