Wednesday, January 22nd, 2003  MagnetAPSuccess 

Central Magnet AP Success

Ed officials argue over AP vs. UConn courses


Monroe's Masuk High School has 67 students working toward 1,167 University of Connecticut credits this year.

Last year, nearly one-third of Masuk juniors and seniors were enrolled in a course for college credit, compared to a statewide average of 20 percent.

But on a report released last week aimed at highlighting the increasing rigor of high school curricula, Masuk earned a 0 because it doesn't offer Advanced Placement courses.

The omission leaves Gene Bernard, chairman of pupil services at Masuk, and others who prefer other college level programs to AP -- a nationwide program offered by The College Board -- feeling a little left out.

It's as if our own commissioner of education touts AP and basically downplays or doesn't even mention the University of Connecticut cooperative program, said Bernard.

When asked, Commissioner of Education Theodore S. Sergi said a course offered to high school students by UConn or other colleges can be the equal to an AP course.

But he has also repeatedly equated high expectations specifically to the AP program.

I think we've been very successful in motivating people to believe high expectations mean get more teachers teaching AP and more students taking AP courses, Sergi said.

His goal is to get all high schools offering AP courses and to have the highest overall AP scores in the nation.

Most high schools in the state are complying. Out of 198 public and private high schools in the state, 147 offered formal AP courses as of last year, up from 127 in 1995.

Participation in AP courses has risen 74 percent over the past five years to 18,777 students. And the number of students taking AP tests has doubled in 10 years to 8,771.

The 17-page AP report commends districts that have stepped up their AP programs, such as Shelton, Wilton and Bridgeport's Central High. It also notes: four comprehensive public high schools, 16 or 17 regional vocational-technical high schools and all three charter high schools with 12th grades had no students who took an AP exam last year.

It doesn't tell the whole story, agreed Thomas Murphy, a state Department of Education spokesman. A zero can give the impression the school doesn't do anything. We do recognize Masuk High School has a higher percentage taking college level courses than the state.

That information, however, is only available on the strategic school profile of the high school. Murphy said a separate report is done on AP participation rates because The College Board keeps and shares reams of statistical data.

But some say they get more mileage out of the UConn Program. In Ansonia High School, where both AP and UConn courses are offered, Principal Wilhemenia Christon said if she were a parent, she'd encourage her child to take the UConn course, which cost students $15 each.

Students who pass the UConn course with a certain grade, automatically get the credit. Students can take an AP course, pass it, and still not get credit if they don't take a $77 AP test and score a 3 or better.

Bernard estimates his students are saving nearly $250,000 this year in tuition by taking the traditional freshmen level UConn courses at Masuk.

Some end up going to UConn; others use the credits at other colleges. Both Christon and Bernard say UConn credits are nearly as portable as AP credits.

I tell my kids once they narrow their college search, find out if their UConn credits will count. If they don't they can always take the AP exam at that point, said Bernard.

In most cases, students who take UConn's calculus course, get the knowledge needed to pass the AP calculus test, Bernard said.

Bernard said Masuk looked hard at doing AP. The UConn program involves more paperwork. But in the end it was decided the UConn program -- now in 115 schools in the state -- was more beneficial to students.

Michael Menard, director of UConn's High School Cooperative Program, said he has been working hard over the past two years to get the program recognized more prominently by the state.

I think frankly we're better than AP, he said.

Courses follow UConn syllabi and when students finish, they're ready for a sophomore course. Only students in the top quarter of their class are eligible for the program.

Menard added the UConn program is starting to assemble a fact sheet, similar to AP's, that would help put it on the map.

Linda Conner Lambeck, who covers regional education issues, can be reached at 330-6218.


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