In addition to straight-A’s, Knightdale High School valedictorian Kristin Olson took 13 advanced placement exams throughout her four years.
For classes that boast of difficulty and preparing students adequately for higher education, that seems like a lot. But she’s not alone.
Along with many other changes next year, such as five institutes, a physical redesign and a name change to the Knightdale High School of Collaborative Design, principal James Argent says that the school will also offer an Advanced Placement Capstone project.
“Taking the course for college credit is the goal,” Argent said. “But our end-all goal for the classes is that students who take the AP classes are better prepared for college and more likely to finish college.”
The AP Capstone, run by The College Board, will offer students an additional diploma or certificate if they successfully complete six courses – an AP seminar and an AP research class in addition to four AP subjects. Advanced placement exams, offered optionally at the end of the course, can be used as college credit if the student makes a certain score and their college accepts them.
This August will be the first school year that Wake County Public Schools will offer the diploma program. In addition to KHS, five other schools including Athens Drive, Enloe, Heritage, Holly Springs and Middle Creek will offer the program.
During this past school year, 268 of the 1,650 Knightdale students enrolled in AP classes. Of those students, 204 students took a total of 477 exams, an average of 2.3 tests per student.
Two years ago, 96 students enrolled in AP classes. There has been an 80 percent increase in the number of courses taken by those students.
Argent isn’t deterred by the fact that still only 16 percent of students are taking advanced placement courses.
“We’re setting ourselves up so that in the next five years 60 percent students will take at least one AP class,” he said. “It’s an aggressive goal.”
The lofty goal is being set into practice, and students are registering. Administrators plan to train and hire more AP teachers, train guidance counselors and add sections.
AP History has increased from two sections to five this coming year and AP Environmental Science has more than tripled from one section to four.
Andrew Vaglio, a favorite among students who teaches AP history and AP human geography says that he’s watched sections “explode” as a variety of APs are offered.
Two years ago, only eight types AP classes were offered. Next year, students will be able to choose from more than 17.
“(The capstone program will) get students who wouldn’t get trained in AP style more involved,” Vaglio said. “That fits more our demographic if you think about it... It’s designed to get students who wouldn’t traditionally take them earn credit and possibly go into college as a second semester freshman.”
An additional factor to students taking the exams is their cost. This year, exams cost $91 each out-of-pocket but the county covered the payment for the first time in decades.
Only next year’s numbers will prove whether students will take more exams due to affordability.
“It allows college credits and alleviate college expenses and … that’s a plus for us and draws students to KHS,” Vaglio said. “That’s the goal, keeping students and not losing them to magnets.”
Shannon Hardy, whose daughter Brenna Hardy is a junior this year, said that Brenna is taking five exams only due to the fact that they are free.
“I believe this will dramatically impact the accessibility of AP to families in the east whose parents may not fully understand the benefits of taking the AP exams for credit,” Shannon Hardy said in an email.
AP administrators and staff see pros and cons to the model of offering free exams. Although students should be and often are incentivized by free exams, some take advantage of the “free” test and don’t adequately prepare.
But in the end, Vaglio said, the capstone program aligns AP in a fashion from ‘beginning’ AP classes to more advanced courses like history and calculus.
“Both work hand-in-hand,” Vaglio said. “The AP capstone will draw in more students, and at this point offering free tests will draw people more into the program.”