Only 3 percent of the nation’s school districts have boosted Advanced Placement performance enough among underrepresented students to make the AP Honor Roll. Eight districts in Washington earned the honor this year.
Only half of all black, Latino or Native-American high-school students with the ability to do advanced work are enrolled in Advanced Placement courses, according to the College Board, which spotlights districts tackling this pattern.
Typically, they are urban or suburban, and comparatively well-resourced.
But for the first time in the eight-year history of the board’s AP District Honor Roll, rural Walla Walla — where a majority of kids are low-income and a plurality Latino — made the list, alongside the Lake Washington, Everett and Shoreline school districts.
The achievement was not due to good luck.
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“About six years ago was the epiphany when we said, ‘Let’s bring down the walls and remove the barriers to AP for kids you might not consider as advanced, just because their binders weren’t completely organized or whatever,’ ” said Ron Higgins, principal at Walla Walla High School.
In years past, he added, only students who had been deemed “advanced” by middle school had any chance to enroll in AP classes as juniors and seniors.
No longer. Walla Walla hired educators to seek out non-English-speaking parents, rejiggered class schedules to provide more AP slots and searched for potential students through leadership clubs.
As a result, between 2015 and 2017, the district saw more minorities enrolled, more taking AP exams and more passing those tests — all of which are criteria for making the national honor roll.
Latino students in Walla Walla now enter college at a higher rate than whites, a district spokesman added.
“Our focus was on trying to increase access to challenging courses however we could,” said Higgins, “and we’re extremely happy with the results.”
Walla Walla is among eight of Washington’s 295 school districts to be hailed for similar progress this year. Only 3 percent of all districts in the country earned that recognition. (Seattle made the honor roll in 2011, but has not appeared since.)
To be named, a district must:
• Increase its rates of enrollment in Advanced Placement classes over three years;
• Increase or maintain rates of underrepresented students taking AP exams during that period, and
• Increase or maintain passing grades on the exams.
For four consecutive years, the Lake Washington School District has met these benchmarks and earned a place on the list. Last June, more than 4,500 students in Lake Washington took AP exams, and 81 percent of them passed.
Because colleges and universities often give credit to high-school students who pass AP tests, those scores come with important consequences, particularly for low-income students who can use them to save on college tuition.