Central Falls High ups AP offerings

Senior Staff Writer
Monday, October 24, 2011

After being identified as one of the nation’s worst-performing schools last year, Central Falls High School launched an initiative this year to drastically increase the number of Advanced Placement course offerings as part of a three-year transformation process. The school added four more AP courses this year: biology, environmental science, calculus and studio art.

Eight percent of the school’s students are proficient in math and 44 percent are proficient in reading, according to last year’s New England Common Assessment Program results. Despite these statistics, Deputy School Superintendent Victor Capellan said Central Falls students are ready for the increased rigor of AP classes.

“We’re giving students the challenge they wanted,” he said, noting that both students and teachers advocated for more AP classes. “Our students are jumping into it with gusto.” The AP course enrollment rate in Central Falls is now 18 percent, double the statewide level, he said.

“Part of the transformation effort we’ve been going through in the past year and a half is showing the level of rigor our students can complete,” Capellan added.

“Usually when you challenge students at this level, you may have an exodus in some cases,” said Joshua Laplante, one of the school’s principals. “What we’ve experienced is the opposite, where students want to come in.”

To support the expanding AP course offerings, the school is arranging a pre-AP program to prepare students in sixth through ninth grades to take more rigorous classes. “They’re planning, they’re strategizing, they’re already looking into what courses they can take,” Laplante said. “Like any other child, they’re going to rise to the occasion.”

Capellan also said he hopes the increased rigor will improve the school’s current graduation rate of 52 percent.

The school will benefit from a $75,000 grant the state received to train teachers for AP course instruction. The grant, funded by the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust, specifically targets the state’s lowest-achieving high schools, including four in Providence and two in Pawtucket.

“The goal of the program is to utilize AP to help drive reform in these high schools and better serve the students who attend them, preparing these students for college or careers upon graduation,” wrote Richard Krasno, executive director of the trust, according to a press release by the state Department of Education.

“Many kids are disappointed in school not because they have to do too much, but because they aren’t challenged enough,” said Elliot Krieger, executive assistant for communications for the education department.

But AP courses are not the only way to challenge students and prepare them for college, Krieger added. While only seven students from Smithfield Senior High School took AP tests last year, according to InfoWorks, a Rhode Island education data initiative, the school focuses more on early enrollment programs that offer students course credit at state colleges. Other districts focus more on honors programs, he said.

One of the biggest benefits of the AP program is that “it clearly is a bridge to college,” Krieger said. But, he added, “Getting a 3 or better is not the only goal. Even if a student doesn’t earn the college credit, it still benefits them.”

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