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May 17, 2005 Extra Credit
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May 17, 2005

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"Yes, Every Kid Can"

Low-income students who take Advanced Placement courses are much more likely to enroll and be successful in college than their non-participating peers. President Bush, as part of his effort to improve our nation’s high schools, has requested a $21.7 million, or 73 percent, increase for advanced placement programs for FY 2006, bringing total funding to $51.5 million. The following excerpts are from a recent article in The Baltimore Sun highlighting how Advanced Placement courses in Washington County, MD, are challenging students and helping them prepare for college:

"Barely a decade ago, so few students in this old railroad town signed up for Advanced Placement chemistry at South Hagerstown High School that the class was almost canceled. Today, it's booked solid, one of 18 AP classes filled with new stars such as Beth Davis, the daughter of a Wal-Mart car mechanic, who is determined to be the first in her family to go to college. Last fall, when teachers pushed the reluctant 16-year-old into college-level courses, she nearly cried. She had failed a grade in middle school. She knew almost no one who had a college education. Nervously, she told her English teacher that she didn't belong. Now, the 11th-grader is fascinated by dissecting animals in AP biology and staying up late to study. Her goal is to be a medical examiner."

"Her success reflects a turnaround at the once-mediocre high school — the result of a campaign by local officials and Betty Morgan, a big-city superintendent who brought new energy and expectations to a small rural school district in Western Maryland. ‘This school has a changed culture,’ said Budd A. Moore, a South High guidance counselor. ‘Even kids who would have never thought of going beyond 12th grade are talking about it.’

"South High, like others across Washington County, is now bustling with additional math, foreign language and AP classes &mdash and putting more students than ever on the path to higher education. Attendance is up. So are test scores. Last June, 93 percent of South High's seniors graduated, compared with 74 percent in 2000. Statistics across the county have improved steadily — showing the kind of progress that beleaguered schools dream about &mdash in the four years since the arrival of Morgan."

"‘We prodded; we goaded,’ Morgan said. ‘People said to us, ‘Our kids don't go to college.’ What we wanted to do was create higher expectations, to say, 'Yes, every kid can.'’ … [I]t’s now a place where all kinds of students are likely to sign up for advanced classes, especially AP courses, which allow them to earn college credits if they score well on a national standardized final exam. … More AP subjects have been added, including statistics, literary composition and music theory. This spring, 1,185 students signed up to take the AP tests, three times as many as in 2000.

"The program has inspired Beth Davis and Cori Ptomey, childhood friends who now study side by side. In biology class, surrounded by eye-catching displays of a deer skull, dead tarantula, cat fetus and jars of preserved snakes, they have found a purpose to their studies. … ‘My mom was the only one [in our family] to graduate from high school,’ said Ptomey, who hopes to get a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania and become a meteorologist. ‘I have expectations to fulfill.’

"And not just for his family. Eugene Gregory, their biology teacher, takes a personal interest in his students, calling them at home and bringing in pizza for after-school study sessions. ‘Beth and Cori might not have been expected to take AP when they got here, and now look at them,’ Gregory said in class recently as he watched them dissect a rat together and search for its spleen. ‘They prove late bloomers can still make it,’ he said, ‘if they have good teachers and a school that believes in them.’"

The entire article is available from The Baltimore Sun online archives for a fee.

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NCLB Extra Credit is a regular look at the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's landmark education reform initiative passed with bipartisan support in Congress.

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Last Modified: 11/27/2006