By Caitlin Cook
and Doug Livingston
The News Outlet
Tim Saxton enrolled in the only Advanced Placement course that Boardman High School offered when he attended in the early 1980s.
When he became principal of his alma mater in 2001, the district still offered only AP calculus. But since 2004, that has changed. Boardman’s current AP classes — seven — are on par with larger Ohio high schools.
As early as their sophomore year, Boardman students now have the opportunity to take AP courses that challenge and prepare them for college education.
Saxton is among many school officials who believe a strong AP program is essential for student success in college.
High school graduates who take advantage of AP classes can knock out college classes at a fraction of the price. Some enter college as sophomores, bypassing an entire year of school. For college admissions officers, success in AP classes indicates a student’s determination and academic achievement.
But offering AP courses isn’t an option for every school. The majority of Valley districts struggle to offer any AP option.
WHY SO FEW IN VALLEY?
Mahoning and Trumbull districts average fewer than two AP classes each. More than a third of the districts offer none. Schools that offer no AP sections are typically smaller, rural districts that lack qualified teachers and the number of students needed to fill AP classrooms.
It’s an issue of staff and students, not dollars.
“Typically schools don’t see the cost of AP as being as much of a barrier as how do we find teachers that we can ensure are going to be qualified to teach college-level courses in our school,” said Trevor Packer, vice president of the College Board, the national group that oversees all AP offerings in America.
“Even though the costs of offering AP itself are not significant, if the school has a small number of students [they may have to choose], ‘Are we going to allocate a teacher to teach an AP section or a non-AP section?” Packer said.
Taxpayers ultimately fund the courses. School administrators must justify offering AP classes by filling the seats.
“When we offer an AP class, we need to have at least 15, 20, 25 kids in a class to be accountable to the community,” Saxton said. “I wish we had the luxury of having a faculty in which we could afford to teach a class and pay for someone to teach a class with 10 to 15 students. Times have changed.”
Though Boardman and other larger districts rely on numbers to fill AP sections, rural schools such as Bloomfield suffer from smaller class sizes, making it difficult to create and fill an AP class.
Bloomfield last offered AP calculus three year ago. With one student enrolled, the class was cut from the high school’s curriculum after the only certified teacher left.
The district, like others, relies on partnerships with Eastern Gateway Community College, Youngstown State University and Kent State University Trumbull Campus to build dual credit courses that outsource college credit coursework.
OHIO LACKS IN AP
Lacking AP sections isn’t just a local problem.
According to a national study conducted by ProPublica, a national reporting organization, the state overall has fallen behind.
Ohio school districts with more than 3,000 students offer seven AP classes on average. The national average for that size district is 8.35 classes.
Mahoning and Trumbull counties have six school districts with more than 3,000 students. But only two — Boardman and Warren — meet the statewide average of seven classes. Austintown offers three. Canfield, Howland and Youngstown high schools all offer two AP classes.
Canfield High School Principal John Tullio has applied for and received an advanced-placement network grant through the Ohio Department of Education. Starting next year, Tullio plans to double the school’s two AP courses with the grant funds.
“We want to stay competitive,” Tullio said. “We want to stay on top of the game and offer the best for our students. And that’s the reason for expansion.”
Of the 13 school districts with fewer than 1,000 students, only two offer AP classes.
Maplewood and Joseph Badger districts offer four and five AP classes respectively.
“One of the things we do is run very [efficiently],” said Joseph Badger Principal Edwin Baldwin.
With support from the board of education, Baldwin analyzes course offerings and class sizes, much as other districts do.
If half of the 120 high school juniors and seniors enroll in an upper-level course like psychology, then the district adds AP psychology to the curriculum and expects 15 to 20 students to register. That is the case for AP psychology this year.
“We decided we are going to give those kids every chance to get college credit and just implement the AP program,” Baldwin said.
The AP courses at Joseph Badger often replace similar honors classes. This avoids additional expenses of hiring another teacher or adding another class.
“It’s the only way that we can do it,” Baldwin said.
He also requires his AP teachers to instruct freshman courses. This lets the teachers become recruiters for prospective AP students who are encouraged to enroll in honors classes by their sophomore year. Honors classes pipeline students into AP courses.
“[Recruiting is] how we keep these courses viable and how we keep them alive,” Baldwin said.
Teachers undergo training at colleges and programs accredited by the College Board to become certified to teach AP courses. The cost of training teachers is often reimbursed by the district. Training costs, from $1,500 to $4,000, vary by institution. Some take college workshops or online training programs. Most use AP training to fulfill their obligation as educators to further their education.
To gain college credit for successfully completing AP class, students must pass an $87 exam offered in May. The federal government subsidizes this fee for students who receive free or reduced lunch.
Officials are concerned some students in impoverished districts cannot afford the $87 AP final exam fee — even though it pales in comparison to hundreds of dollars in college tuition that would have been paid. Not all students who qualify for federal subsidy enroll in the free or reduced lunch program, and therefore do not receive aid for taking the AP exam.
The benefit of successfully completing an AP course depends on the college.
Tara Milliken, an admissions counselor at The Ohio State University, said accelerated courses in the AP program better prepare students for college, but they are not a primary consideration for admission.
“I think any time a student is able to take a more rigorous course. that better prepares them for the academic challenges they may face,” Milliken said. “It works in their favor.”
At YSU, an open- enrollment institution, AP classes have no bearing on admissions, according to Sue Davis, director of undergraduate admissions.
However, Davis also sees the benefit of offering college-level courses in high school.
“It gives students a little bit of an idea of what is going to be required in college,” she said, “because they will be required to do a lot more with this AP course than they would in a typical high school course.”
Boardman senior Evan Heintz embraces the options his school provides and hopes to skip a couple of courses heading into college so he’s “not so lost.”
“It’s a big advantage for Boardman students to have a lot of AP classes to choose from. It gives us a ton of options. So it gives us opportunities to succeed,” Heintz said.
The NewsOutlet is a joint media venture by student and professional journalists and is a collaboration of Youngstown State University, WYSU radio and The Vindicator.