Coffee County schools nix AP program

Coffee County schools nix AP program

ELBA, AL (WSFA) - The school board in Coffee County is moving forward with eliminating the AP program - much to the concern of some students.

“I’ve always thought I needed a rigorous program,” said Zion Chapel senior Savannah Parker.

That’s why Parker enrolled in AP classes.

“Four total - AP Bio, AP Calculus, AP U.S. Government and Politics, and AP English Literature and Composition,” she said.

Classes she felt helped juniors and seniors get ready for college. Classes she was shocked to learn the system is cutting next year.

“The removal of the AP program from Zion Chapel curriculum is the death of an academically forward and competitive institution of learning,” said Savannah.

In a statement sent to WSFA, the system confirmed they would not continue to train AP teachers with the A+ College Ready Grant program.

Superintendent Kevin Killingsworth released this statement below:

STATEMENT CONCERNING AP COURSES AT ZION CHAPEL HIGH SCHOOL

For the past three years, Zion Chapel High School has participated in the A+ College Ready grant program. The grant has provided high-quality teacher training for ZCHS teachers in core content areas in grades 6 -10, as well as AP teachers in grades 11 and 12. Financially, the grant has provided resources for equipment and supplies, stipends for teachers and school administrators, and incentives for students enrolled in AP courses. The grant cycle comes to an end this year, and ZCHS will revert to a Pipeline School status. As a Pipeline School, A+ College Ready will continue to train new core content teachers in grades 6 - 10 and cover the cost of PSAT testing, but training for AP teachers and financial incentives will not continue. Teachers who have received training will continue to have access to the A+ College Ready curriculum and resources.

Coffee County Schools has considered many variables in making decisions regarding the AP courses. While the benefits of the grant at ZCHS have been significant, offering AP courses at only one of the three high schools in our system has resulted in a significant equity finding in our most recent compliance monitoring by the Alabama State Department of Education. The ALSDE noted the lack of equitable access to advanced classes from school to school in our district in two compliance assurances. These include:

1. Are modes of service delivery, which may vary by grade and/or grade level cluster, consistent from school to school? AAC 290-8-9-.12(6)(a)

2. Are services comparable in duration from school to school within an LEA? AAC 290-8-9-.12(6)(a). In other words, if the district teaches AP classes at one school, the district should be required to teach the courses at all schools. Since the district does not have AP certified teachers at all schools, we must limit the number of AP courses taught at Zion Chapel High School. Also, after reviewing the costs associated with the teacher training that is required through the grant, the district found that actually, the amount of local funds spent by the system far exceeded the financial benefits of the grant. The district certainly does not see these local expenditures as wasted money, the school system is charged with making responsible financial decisions that are logical and impact to as many students as possible.

With Zion Chapel being such a small school, staff members who teach AP courses, teach five other courses, as well. Yearly training through the grant took teachers out of the classroom numerous days during the school year. The district believes our schools should protect teacher instructional time in the classroom and limit professional development to training that can be beneficial to ALL students, not just a small percentage.

In reviewing data relating to AP Qualifying Scores, the district found that while the percentage of qualifying scores at ZCHS increased over the cycle of the grant, the school’s percentages were well below state and national averages. Therefore, when taking an even closer look at qualifying scores, the district noted that 17 students in the school earned a qualifying score in 2018. The district is indeed proud of these students for this achievement; however, we must consider the impact in which supporting a program that requires teachers to be out of the classroom numerous days to benefit only 17 students will have on the other 780 students enrolled in the school. Another significant concern in offering AP courses in our small schools is the impact that adding these courses has on the master schedule. For example, currently, at ZCHS, the AP English class has eight students enrolled. Due to the AP class being small, another section of grade 12 English has 29 students. Additionally, due to a declining enrollment at Zion Chapel High School, the teaching staff will be reduced by at least one teacher. Fewer teachers will make scheduling for small AP classes even more difficult.

The district realizes and certainly appreciates the potential the AP courses have to prepare students for college and the workforce, but the district also has to consider the entire school program. Quite frankly, the data from Zion Chapel High School does not support the need to continue to invest dollars into this particular program. A more responsible way to spend taxpayer money would be to incorporate programs that reach a higher number of students and may be equitably applied at all schools in the system. Although financial support for the AP teacher training will not continue, ALL Coffee County Schools may offer students opportunities to participate in an AP curriculum and sit for AP exams. Options for AP Credit may include a student being scheduled into an advanced course that includes AP curriculum components, taught by a teacher with AP training, and sitting for the AP Exam or enrolling in an online AP course (these courses are free through ACCESS Distance Learning).

Coffee County Schools commends the work of the A+ College Ready Initiative in ensuring that more Alabama graduates will be prepared for college, the workforce, and life. We have recently entered into an agreement with A+ College Ready that benefits ALL of our schools. All core content teachers in grades 6 - 10 along with Algebra II teachers will participate in 6 days of high-quality professional development aimed at providing educators with the tools necessary to prepare students in earlier grades for rigorous courses and teach to the high expectation of Alabama’s College and Career Ready Standards. As A+ College Ready “Pipeline Schools,” our core content areas will infuse instructional strategies that support differentiation and high-quality learning for ALL students. This district-wide effort will help ensure consistency and equity for ALL students in all schools. Additionally, since all ZCHS core content teachers in grades 11 and 12 are AP trained, these teachers will be able to continue to provide the highest quality instruction for juniors and seniors as the students prepare to enter college or the workforce.

As part of Coffee County’s accountability, our system is assessed by the State on College and Career Readiness Indicators (CRI). Indicator categories include participation in IB or AP courses; benchmarking in at least one subtest of the ACT with Writing; earning a minimum score of 4 on each portion of the ACT WorkKeys assessment; Military enlistment; earning dual-enrollment credit and earning Career Tech credentials. The opportunities to obtain a CRI is essential. In small systems, such as Coffee County, offering learning opportunities in all of these categories may not be possible. Decisions must be made to ensure that program offerings impact and reach as many students as possible. The chart below shows the number of graduates in our district that received CRIs in each category for 2016-17 and 2017-18.

College Career Readiness Federal Student Graduate Counts for Coffee County:

Coffee County Schools is committed to educating our students so they can ALL become productive citizens in today’s society. We strive to provide opportunities that will result in the acquisition of knowledge and skills that will enable students to successfully transition into adult life. We have expanded opportunities over the last few years and will continue to pursue a variety of options that help us reach this goal.

Examples of Current Opportunities for Student Achievement

  • Co-Op and Supervised Work Experiences are offered to allow students to earn high school credit while learning practical work experience
  • Developed a partnership with Elba City Schools to provide Career Technical courses, including dual enrollment courses that are free of charge to students. Currently, these courses are in the areas of Health Sciences, Welding, Auto Mechanics, and Diesel Mechanics
  • Career Technical dual-enrollment programs offered through ESCC and LBWCC that are of no cost to students. These include Health Sciences, Welding, Auto Mechanics, Diesel Mechanics, and Industrial Electronics
  • Academic dual-enrollment opportunities through a number of community colleges and state universities

Upcoming Opportunities for Student Achievement

  • Expansion of course offerings through Career Technical dual- enrollment to include EMS, Medical Coding, Computer Science Information, MSSC certification
  • Payment plans for tuition for students for academic dual enrollment courses at ESCC and LBWCC
  • Opportunities for community service as part of the school curriculum
  • Plans to implement tuition assistance/scholarships for eligible students for academic dual enrollment courses at ESCC and LBWCC are being drafted

As the superintendent of the Coffee County School System, I strive daily to provide as many academic opportunities for ALL students at every school in our system as possible, not just one group of students at one school. Comprises are sometime necessary. One of my daughters is enrolled this school year in the pre-AP program at Zion Chapel, so it will affect one of my children. I understand on a personal level, the impact this decision will have on some students and parents. Let me be clear, we are NOT eliminating the opportunity to earn AP credit at Zion Chapel High School. Much time and effort has gone into researching our options. This includes consulting with other district administrators, Coffee County Board of Education members, and current superintendents in other systems. The decision has been made and is final. I want the best for EVERY student in the Coffee County System and will work tirelessly with its administrators, teachers, students, staff and parents to make that happen.

While Killingsworth noted the awarded AP Program grant - which covers things like teacher training, classroom equipment, student testing, and substitute teachers who are hired to cover a teacher’s class who has to attend training - is set to expire, A+ College Ready, the non-profit that awards the grant says that’s not the case. So far, the program has awarded $149,000 dollars in grant money and was set to extend the grant beyond the 3 year cycle to a 4th year, according to a representative.

“We gave them a year’s extension so we would continue to pay for teacher training, teacher and students incentives, the mock exams, and the AP exams at no cost to them,” said Teri Thompson, with A+ College Ready. “Classroom supplies would not be covered in the fourth year of the grant program because equipment had been provided in previous years.”

The only required financial cost for the school system is transportation for teachers to attend training. WSFA reached out to the system to get numbers on how much it costs the system.

A+ College Ready also noted the organization was on board to help the program expand to the school system’s other high schools.

“A+ College Ready was ready to expand to the other schools in the district and had already offered that prior to this apparent decision that we had not been informed about. From an equity point, it’s a no brainer,” said A+ Education Partnership President Mark Dixon.

The non-profit also noted that 26 students had qualifying scores for the AP Exam from 2018, rather than the 17 referenced. The organization also noted that the bulk of teacher training happened over the summer and that teachers were pulled from the classroom no more than three days a year.

A+ College Ready says they have reached out to the system regarding the future of the program.

Students can still sit for the AP exam, but that classes won’t be offered.

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