In just three short years, the number of Northside ISD students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses has risen by 13 percent, and the number of AP tests taken by students has more than doubled.
It hasn't happened by accident.
In 2007, the District received $5.7 million in "high school allotment" funding from the state to increase the number of students who graduate from high school and to better prepare them for college. Several explicit goals were established by the state, including increasing enrollment in advanced courses.
The District no longer is required by the state to use the money to increase graduation rates and college readiness. However, NISD has chosen to continue to earmark the money for those purposes.
"Every student should graduate, and every student should have the opportunity to go to college," Superintendent John Folks said. "That's why we want to continue to focus funding—and our efforts—on this very critical goal."
Part of the funding is used to offset student fees for taking AP tests. NISD pays $40 for every AP test taken, so combined with a state discount, it costs students only $18 to take an AP test.
In 2006, 27 percent of NISD students were enrolled in AP courses, and they took 3,614 tests. Three years later, in 2009, 40 percent of NISD students were enrolled and they took 7,798 tests. Currently, more than 10,000 secondary students are enrolled in AP courses and this spring, more than 9,000 AP tests were administered in NISD.
In addition, the number of students who score a 3 or higher on the test has steadily risen. Students typically need to score at least a 3 (out of 5) to earn college credit. Of the students who took AP tests in 2009, 42.5 percent of students earned a 3 or higher.
NISD's AP program has become so successful that the College Board has recognized the District for increasing student access to the AP program.
"Advanced Placement courses not only give students a taste of college-level work, but it also gives them the opportunity to earn college credit while they're still in high school," said Sara McAndrew, Executive Director of Secondary Instruction. "It's more important than ever that students do everything they can to get a head start."
Students say they are choosing to take AP classes for just that reason—for the opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school. They also like the challenging coursework and getting a taste of what college courses will be like.
"AP courses offer challenging, higher-order thinking reading, writing, and discussion," said Harvey "Trey" Herd III, a student at Warren High School. "I took AP courses because I want to really learn and be in a true learning classroom. The AP classroom allows me to avoid the distractions of those who do not come to school with the goal of learning."
Besides the AP program, the District also has expanded its AVID program to all middle schools and currently is in the process of moving the program into Title I elementary schools.
In addition, the District is making a concerted effort to increase the number of students enrolled in dual credit classes at Northwest Vista College. Enrollment has increased from 1,179 in 2007 to 2,900 in 2009—an increase of about 150 percent. Next year, about 3,600 students will be taking dual credit courses at Northwest Vista free of charge.
"At NISD, it's not our goal to just have students go to college, we want them to go to college, stay in college, graduate from college, and then contribute to our community," Folks said.