More Firebirds take more AP classes – and do well on tests

Bill Petrello teaches his AP Statistics class during sixth period.

Bill Petrello teaches his AP Statistics class during sixth period.

By Brandon Lively, Staff Writer

The schedule for the year for some students could be: Statistics, Psychology, Biology, Latin, U.S. History, Chemistry and Studio Art. It sounds like a lot, but when AP – Advanced Placement – is put in front of the course names, it is much more.

Fairmont High School offers 17 Advanced Placement classes, which are classes designed to better prepare students for the rigors of college courses and to take a test that could earn them college credit.

In addition, The College Board website says research has shown that Advanced Placement students are more likely to graduate from college in four years, which can save up to $19,000 each additional year. The College Board also states that 31 percent of colleges look at AP experience when deciding who gets a scholarship.

Each AP course has its own test at the end of the year, and how a student scores on a test can help determine how much college credit, if any, a student will be awarded by a particular college. The scores range from 1-5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest. A score of 3 is usually the lowest score colleges will accept, but some colleges won’t give credit for any score below a 4.

“A score of 3 is really good, considering it’s a challenging course,” said Fairmont Principal Dan VonHandorf. “Scores of 4 or 5 are better, though. Three means you might get college credit for that course. Four or 5 means you have a better chance of credit at more colleges, though some highly selective schools don’t give credit for AP,” he said.

Fairmont AP Statistics teacher Bill Petrello recommends that if students know where they plan to attend college, they should contact the college before the test.

“Different colleges offer different ways of dealing with an AP score. Let’s say that a certain college asks you for a specific score of 4, for example. If you get a 4 or a 5, which is what they asked you for, then one of two things will happen: They give you an A for the class and give you the credit, or they just give you credit for taking the class. It depends on the school,” he said.

Even though this sounds good, AP classes aren’t for everybody. They involve more study, more homework and the end-of-the-year AP test.

The courses offered range from Studio Art to various languages, from History to Chemistry, and from Biology to Government. That much variety means there’s likely some an AP class available to fit most students’ needs or interests. Indeed, a lot of juniors and seniors have at least one AP class on their schedule.

“Fairmont students are taking more AP classes and tests than ever,” said VonHandorf, “and they’re passing, too.

In the past five years, the number of Fairmont students taking Advanced Placement exams has increased by more than 40 students: from 210 in 2008 to 253 in 2012. The average number of AP tests taken by Fairmont students has increased from 294 in the 2007-08 school year to 435 in 2011-12.

So more students are taking more tests, but how are they scoring? The statistics for that are impressive as well.

The number of Firebirds earning a score of 3, 4 or 5 on an AP test has increased from 57 percent in 2008 to 79 percent last year. The state average increased slightly from 64 percent to 67 percent in the past few years, and the global average has increased by 1 percent. The Fairmont scores were behind the state and global averages five years ago. Now, the rapid growth has put them ahead.

Petrello is happy about the rise in Fairmont students attempting these college classes.

“More kids are realizing that these tough classes are a challenge and an introduction to college. I think that a lot of kids are enjoying tougher classes – not too much, like a ‘so hard I can’t understand it’ course, but a slightly more difficult course than the standard class,” he said.

Of course the increase in passing tests scores reflects hard work by the students taking these courses. But both VonHandorf and Petrello have something to say: Thank the teachers.

“More kids are doing better because both the teachers and the students are better prepared for the tests now than, say, five or 10 years ago,” said Petrello. “Also, students want harder classes. Not all of them, but I’d say about 65 or 70 percent want a more challenging course. It keeps their minds sharp and interested.”

VonHandorf agrees with Petrello’s assessment. “The teachers have done great in preparing our students for these tests,” he said, “and that’s because our students want to learn. They come to school to prepare for the future, which is what school is about. More kids are realizing that a college education is going to help them later in life.”