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Gainesville, Hall, state AP test scores are on rise
School leaders from both systems say advanced courses are becoming a bigger part of student culture
Flowery Branch High School senior Kevin Williams takes a test Friday during an Advanced Placement chemistry class. Flowery Branch and East Hall high schools recently were named AP Honors Schools by the Department of Education. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Jamie Bennett is already ahead of many teens when it comes to college readiness.

A senior, Bennett has enrolled in eight advanced placement courses during his time at Flowery Branch High School.

"It really challenges and pushes you," he said. "It also helps with your study skills and your ability to take different kinds of tests."

Bennett is part of a growing number of students in the area who are taking part in AP courses, which can help them earn college credit for class work done in high school.

And scores for these AP test-takers are on the rise.
Georgia ranked 11th in the nation in the percentage of seniors scoring a 3 or higher on AP exams. The report, released last Wednesday, measures the progress of the class of 2010.

The state ranked 12th in the nation the year before.

The release also indicated "among the state's public high school seniors in 2010, 19.1 percent scored a 3 or higher on at least one AP exam during high school. That's higher than the national average of 16.9 percent."

Locally, scores are also trending upward.

Sally Krisel, Hall County Assistant Director of Teaching and Learning, said 38 percent of students across the Hall County Schools district scored a 3 or higher. That's up 4 percent from 2009 and 11 percentage points from 2008.

"We're gaining every year in all the ways we want to," Krisel said. "We're offering more AP courses, we're getting more students enrolled in those courses and our success rate is gradually rising."

At Gainesville High School, a little more than half the 173 students who took the AP exam last year passed.

"We've seen a big growth with our kids. Of those who took the exam, 51 percent made a three or higher," said Kay Holleman, head counselor at Gainesville High School said.

School leaders from both systems say advanced courses are becoming a bigger part of student culture.

Staff are focusing their efforts on adding more AP offerings and encouraging students to take advanced courses.

"Teachers are communicating to students that we have high expectations of them," Krisel said. "To be successful after high school you must embrace that level of challenge."

AP chemistry teacher Carol Morris said students in her class at Flowery Branch High School are "treated like a real college kid."

"The students must be driven," she said. "I let them know there is no room for memorization in this course. They must have abstract thinking to understand the dynamics of this course."

Exams for AP classes are graded on a scale of 1 to 5.

Most colleges give course credit to students who earn scores of 3 or higher.

For student performance last year, two Hall County were recently singled out by the Georgia Department of Education.

East Hall and Flowery Branch high schools were among a select group of high schools across Georgia named 2011 AP Honor Schools.

"It's always exciting news to be recognized in that manner," East Hall Principal Jeff Cooper said.

The school was recognized for the number of minority student test-takers last year. About 30 percent were African-American or Hispanic, and at least 30 percent of all exams posted scores of 3 or higher.

Flowery Branch earned the honor for their offerings in AP math and science, and that at least 40 percent of students earned a 3 or higher in 2010.

"We're very proud. We've worked over time to increase the AP classes we offer and the number of teachers who are trained to teach AP classes," said Linda Thompson, assistant principal at Flowery Branch.

The school offers more than 20 AP classes in 14 subjects including world history, physics and human geography, she said. Students can take an AP course as early as ninth grade.

In addition to the jump in scores, participation in advanced courses has also grown districtwide.

In 2007, 1,203 students took AP exams. Fast forward to 2009 and 1,613 students took AP tests. That number grew 2008, when 1,447 students took the exam.

Krisel believes the percentage dipped in 2010 to 1,408 because it was the first year the district administered International Baccalaureate exams.

"Because an increasing number of our students are choosing to pursue the IB diploma and are taking IB exams instead, we have seen a little dropoff in the number of AP exams we're giving," Krisel said.

She said the number is likely to increase by the end of the year.

Krisel noted that the district will continue to improve and expand programs for students who want courses that push them to think more critically.

"If you want scores to be exceptionally high, you limit enrollment for AP courses. Our commitment is to provide rigorous course work for all students who want to participate," she said.

"We're expanding the pool of students enrolled and the success rate is increasing, and that's unusual."

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