Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Each year, we update the data from the College Board's Advanced Placement Program for the State of Idaho and for school districts and high schools. Advanced Placement coursework is the "gold standard" for rigor in high schools around the country.  Advanced Placement is by far the most popular program, and offers an unmatched set of challenging courses from which students can choose. 

Statewide AP Data

Here's the percentage of statewide AP exams given in districts around the state:

As you can see, Boise gave over a third of statewide exams, while enrolling about 9% of the state's students. In fact, Boise and West Ada (which has expanded its program recently) gave over half the exams in the state.

Insofar as student participation is concerned, here is the same comparison:

Again, Boise students took almost 30% of the statewide exams, with 9% of the students.

High School AP Exams and Senior Enrollment

However, a better way to judge whether students have access to and take advantage of rigorous coursework is to look at AP exams in comparison to enrollment in the district or for a particular high school. Let's have a look at the high school data.

The Washington Post's Challenge Index looks at data submitted by high schools around the country, and uses a ratio system to rank their efforts with rigor. It's a pretty simple comparison - the number of AP or IB exams given divided by the number of senior class graduates - if the ratio is higher than 1.0, the schools makes the list. For our comparison, we used the senior class enrollment for fall, 2016 (State Department of Education data) and AP exams (State Board of Education data).

Timberline and Boise were basically in a dead heat in 2017 in this comparison - Timberline's student participation grew significantly from 2016. Next was McCall, which has a thriving small-district AP program, followed by Capital and Wood River (Blaine County).

Ridgevue is the Vallivue District's new high school (pretty amazing participation for a first-year school) Borah and Century (Pocatello) have long been fixtures on the Washington Post list, and are followed closely by Centennial (West Ada). Especially interesting are Vallivue, Caldwell  and Columbia (Nampa), three high schools with very high rates of free/reduced lunch, which nonetheless had relatively high exam numbers.

One special note - Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy is a charter school in northern Idaho, located within the boundaries of the Coeur d'Alene District. The school is not a comprehensive high school in our definition - percentages of free/reduced and Special Education students are quite low, and student enrollment numbers decline significantly as respective cohorts progress through the grades, so we have not included them in the charts. Nonetheless, it's important to note that CDA charter would be near the top in these charts if it was included.

Student Participation

We've struggled with how to characterize AP student participation. At one point, we used the total number of students divided by enrollment of juniors and seniors, but more and more sophomores are taking the exams. We thought about the four-year high school enrollment (used by the Idaho High School Activities Association for classification purposes), but very few 9th graders take AP exams in Idaho. Eventually, we settled on AP student participation divided by the number of enrolled sophs, juniors and seniors.

Again, Boise and Timberline have nearly 50% of students taking exams, followed by McCall-Donnelly at 39%. Then, within a couple of percentage points are Wood River, Century, Borah and Capital with about 1/3 of students participating. Centennial and Ridgevue are next, with another 11 schools between 21% and 15%. 

At one time, Advanced Placement coursework was reserved for the small number of students who met a "cutoff score" on an assessment, as identified by districts or schools. With the adoption of the AVID program and a new philosophy of encouragement for students wanting tot take the AP challenge, the percentage of students taking at least one exam has changed. Using our new standard of  exam participants divided by 10th-12th enrollment, here's what we have seen in Boise.

A significant change, to be sure. Many more Boise students are taking advantage of the opportunity to experience rigorous coursework and take challenging, college-level assessments. 

Next, a look behind the Advanced Placement exam numbers in the Boise District.