Letter: AP courses do not replace Running Start

From Allison and Jeffrey Wang

Using the percent of students taking AP tests to evaluate our high schools is a flawed methodology. As one of their criteria, Newsweek uses the number of 12th-grade students who took at least one AP or IB test before or during their senior year divided by the total number of 12th-graders. As a result more schools have started pushing more students toward taking the exam, whether or not the student does well. In 2011, Principal Ehren Jarrett at Hononegah High School tripled student participation in AP classes in order to make the school ranking higher in Newsweek. Jarrett believed that “even if a student doesn’t score a three or higher [out of five] on the test they will be more successful in other high school classes, in getting into college and graduating from college.” In reality, the vast majority of colleges will not consider any AP scores that are below a three or four.

Now Ehren Jarrett as our Superintendent of RPS 205 is trying to bring this ideology to Rockford. In June 2015, RPS 205 proposed a plan to cancel its Running Start program, which allows students to pursue an associate degree at Rock Valley College in conjunction to their high school diploma. RPS 205 Board member Tim Rollins claims that Running Start draws high-performing students away from Advanced Placement and honors courses, reducing student-to-teacher ratios and lowering cost efficiency. In reality, only 30 students out of the 7,646 high school students from the entire district were able to enroll in Running Start.

Did taking away 0.4 percent of high school students actually break our AP classrooms? On the other hand, Auburn High School’s field house cost taxpayers $13.6 million. Athletics is a vital part of every high school student’s experience. However, keeping Running Start for the next decade would cost a miniscule fraction of all of our constructed field houses, not even including the costs of building depreciation and maintenance.

Running Start is a competitive program where disadvantaged students can pursue a rigorous education and get a college degree without astronomical costs out of pocket. It opens up an incredibly diverse number of options, such as nursing, social work, aerospace engineering, and post-graduate opportunities that were previously only open to those with the financial resources. On the flip side, pushing unprepared students into AP classrooms diverts attention away from developing reading and writing skills that all high school students need. Only 39 percent of RPS 205 high school students meet the state’s minimum standards, which are significantly lower than those of the AP curriculum.

Forcing students into AP courses that they are not prepared for in order to boost high school rankings is fraudulent. At the same time, taking away educational opportunities to clear the way for outlandish construction is a losing proposition. Ironically, Board member Tim Rollins lamented, “It’s always disappointing when someone decides that we can’t make our own decisions based on what we believe is in the best interests of our students.” I agree whole-heartedly. Isn’t it horrible when parents cannot make their own decisions for their children?

Allison Wang is currently a high school student in Rockford taking courses at Rock Valley College.

Jeffrey Wang took courses through the outreach program at the University of Illinois while attending Auburn High School. He just graduated from Harvard University and will be attending Stanford University’s MD/PhD program on an NIH-funded fellowship in the fall.

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