Grant to focus on AP courses
  A New Haven Register editorial           June 23, 2000
  The issue is: To try or not to try.

The U.S. Department of Education has given Connecticut a $516,000 grant to help urban school districts offer more advanced placement, or AP, courses. The money will be split by New Haven, Hartford, Bridgeport, Waterbury and other communities that share such problems as low educational achievement, low-income families and declining grand lists. 

A study by the Yale Institution for Social and Policy Studies is skeptical. The institution studied the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test scores in inner-city schools in Detroit and Los Angeles and concluded most of them donít have students capable of handling AP courses and tests. "That raises the question whether the money to fund these programs might be used more productively for other educational programs," says Donald Green, the director of the institution. 

That assessment seems much too pessimistic. The thrust of school reform in Connecticut in recent years has been to lift achievement standards and raise the bar for students. The AP program does just that when it enables students to take college-level courses in subjects ranging from history to psychology to calculus. 

Last spring, 7,763 Connecticut public school students took tests in one of the 31 AP areas offered by the College Board. Ten years ago, only 3,206 students participated. And in the 1998-99 school year, 70.8 percent of Connecticut students scored three or better on the AP scale of five. 

Inner-city schools have shared in and sometimes led the way in expanding the AP program. In 1994, Central High in Bridgeport had 50 students taking an exam in one of 10 AP subjects. In 1999, Central had 103 students taking exams in 15 AP courses. Middletown High School has had an increase of 100 students taking AP courses in the past five years. 

In New Haven, the statistics have been mixed. Wilbur Cross had 22 AP test takers in 1994 and 35 in 1999, while at Hillhouse the number taking AP tests declined from 14 in 1994 to four in 1999. 

The numbers suggest that inner-city students have the potential to excel in AP programs, but that the potential is sometimes not realized because of the difficulties those schools labor under. 

The extra money that the schools in each city will receive through this grant may provide just enough teacher training, supplies, materials and other kinds of aid to boost studentsí participation and scores to the same level as more affluent districts. 

That is certainly worth a try. 

©New Haven Register 2000