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Mecklenburg trustees move to drop AP

SoVaNow.com / September 25, 2019
Mecklenburg County School Board chairman Dale Sturdifen used Friday night’s special called meeting to push for the elimination of Advanced Placement classes from the school division curriculum beginning with the 2020-21 school year.

In Sturdifen’s view, dual enrollment is a better option for college-bound students graduating from Mecklenburg County schools because of what he called “the unique relationship” the school division has with the local community college, Southside Virginia Community College.

Sturdifen called the DE program a “guarantee versus a gamble,” which is how he characterized AP. In conversation after the board meeting, he acknowledged that not every college and university in Virginia accepts credits earned through a DE program, and that it depends on the school and the major the student will pursue.

The motion to discontinue AP classes after the current school year, made by Gavin Honeycutt and seconded by Dora Garner, passed on a 6-1 vote with one abstention. Trustee Rob Campbell was absent, Lindell Palmer cast the lone no vote and Brent Richey abstained from voting, citing his employment with the community college as the reason.

Trustees Honeycutt, Sturdifen, Garner, Glenn Edwards, Wanda Bailey, and Kenny Johnson supported the move, though Garner asked that the issue be revisited once the high schools are consolidated.

Bailey pointed out that students currently taking AP English 111 who do not earn a score of 3 or above on their AP test will not be able to enroll in the next level English (DE-243/244) without first retaking and passing the class when it is offered for dual enrollment credit.

Edwards cast his vote with reservations as well, saying his support for the motion was based more on the need for the school division to eliminate what he sees as a “guidance nightmare” and lack of consistency when it comes to preparing students for college.

“We need to concentrate on one thing and get it right,” said Edwards.

Like Garner, he suggested the board revisit whether to offer AP classes at a later date, once all of the dual enrollment issues have been resolved.

The original purpose of the meeting was to discuss ways to offer students at both Park View and Bluestone High Schools equal access to both DE and AP classes during the current school year, something that had not occurred either last year or in the current school year.

According to Garner, the problem began when the school division authorized the transfer of teachers qualified to teach dual enrollment classes from Bluestone High School to Park View High School without replacing them with similarly qualified teachers at Bluestone.

The result, which Garner raised in an earlier meeting of the board, was that less than half as many students at Bluestone High School earned or were on track to earn an associates degree by the end of their senior year in high school, compared to the number graduating from Park View High.

At the Sept. 16 regular monthly meeting of the board Monday, Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols proposed a solution that would have seniors at Bluestone take the two classes they would need to earn their associates degree during the spring semester of 2020 and the summer of 2020.

Juniors in need of nine classes for their associates degree would take precalculus this fall, an English class in spring of 2020, physical education, biology, economics and western civilization classes in the fall of 2020 and a humanities, a second English and a second biology in the fall of 2021.

Sophomores at Bluestone High School, who need 12 dual enrollment classes to earn their associates degree upon graduation from high school, would take these courses between the spring of 2020 and the spring of 2022 when they graduate.

Nichols’ proposal was not accepted, however, and trustees pressed him to get with officials with Southside Virginia Community College for a better solution. At the same time, parents of Bluestone students were demanding that the board transfer a teacher from Park View to Bluestone who is qualified to teach DE English, as Park View had four such qualified teachers compared to none at Bluestone.

While Nichols, working with SVCC vice president of Workforce and Continuing Education Keith Harkins, did find a better solution that appeared acceptable to the board, Sturdifen and others pressed the case for benefits of DE classes compared to AP classes.

Garner repeatedly reminded the board that the issue they were facing was the inequity of educational opportunities between the eastern and western ends of the county. She pressed for the solution which Nichols said would be addressed by offering Bluestone seniors and juniors online access to a 10-week DE English 111 class during the current semester.

This class would be in addition to their existing four-block schedule or they could, if scheduling allowed, drop one of their elective classes, replacing that class with the DE Eng-111.

Starting in the spring semester, Park View English teacher Taylor Tharpe, who is qualified to teacher DE English, would then transfer to Bluestone High School to teach the remaining three DE English classes that Bluestone seniors are required to take to satisfy their associate degree requirements.

These same students also must take a humanities course. Nichols promised to continue working with SVCC on a solution for students to satisfy this requirement before graduation in May 2020.

It was Sturdifen who moved the conversation away from the inequity issue to a discussion of whether dual enrollment classes are a better fit for county students who plan to pursue a post-high school degree.

Sturdifen equated AP classes to “a standardized test” and called DE a “guarantee” and AP a “gamble” when it comes to receiving college credit for classes taken in high school.

Sturdifen argued that dual enrollment classes are as rigorous and universally accepted by colleges as AP classes.

“So when I hear that rigor isn’t there, yet a lot of our great institutions accept the DE credit, I’m a little baffled that an AP test will supersede the DE,” he said.

Citing statistics from the prior school year in which less than half the students who took AP exams earned a score of three or more on their test, Sturdifen said students in Mecklenburg County “have more success taking dual enrollment than advanced placement.”

Bailey countered that low AP scores could “be rectified by preparation that begins years before.” She said that offering students pre-AP classes at the middle school level would “set the kids up for success.”

Sturdifen, however, pushed for the board to choose between offering AP and DE classes. “I don’t know how you balance out a three” — the minimum qualifying test score for colleges to recognize a student’s grasp of college level material — “with a teacher teaching a DE class. We’ve had teachers in this county who’ve gotten an associates degree through the DE program and come back in a short turnaround after two years starting as a junior and they are teaching.”

Sturdifen’s push for DE classes was supported by Harkins, who admitted he “had a dog in the fight. So you know which way I will go.”

Harkins sought to reassure the board that “when you’re talking DE versus AP the rigor piece… the rigor is there because it better be.” He also noted that the qualifications for DE instructors are the same as for all instructors at Southside Virginia Community College and four-year colleges and universities in Virginia and across the South.

He also said “a massive effort” is under way statewide to ensure that DE credits are more widely accepted by colleges and universities. “I expect over the next 12 to 18 months that will be in place and will make things a lot more clear for everyone involved,” he said.

Palmer, who cast the lone “no” vote, said the school division should offer students every academic advantage, telling Sturdifen and others, “I hear where you are coming from. However, I don’t think we should limit ourselves to just DE, if AP is accepted by more colleges and universities than DE. I think we need to have that door open so that if a child does choose to take that AP class, I would like to see both [offered] if we can work it out as we have done in the past.

“I think the problem is that we dropped the ball. We waited until this time of the year to figure out what we are going to try to do with AP or DE. We want to get this problem straight this year, yes, but next year we don’t want to come back to this again. We don’t want to have this hanging over our head three weeks into the year. We need to start this thing at the beginning of the year having both schools having access to both classes and going on with education system in Mecklenburg County,” Palmer said.



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Comments

AP courses and exams are more widely accepted by colleges and rightfully viewed as more rigorous. The AP exam is extremely difficult and if a student scores a 3 or higher, the college knows that the student is prepared for the demands of college. I work in another school division and was part of a study and we asked community college and 4 year college professors how they felt about DE courses and the overwhelming response was that the HS teacher did not prepare them for college level work. That they taught the course as a HS course, not college level.

Sturdifen is wrong, again, because most who graduate HS with the associates degree still do not have enough transferable credits to go in as a junior. Most go as a mid level sophomore and either end up retaking courses they have passed as DE or are struggling with the next level 4 year course.


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