Tulane VISTA Blog

Fighting Poverty with Passion

Field Report – Cowen Institute: Advanced Placement, Advancing Possibilities

Vanderbilt commencement, 2012. Go 'Dores.

Vanderbilt commencement, 2012. Go ‘Dores.

Senior year of high school, I had an extra slot in my schedule for another Advanced Placement (AP) class – AP Art History or AP Psychology? All my friends chose Psychology but I ended up in first period Art History. Because, well, why not. Also, pretty pictures (or so I thought.)

And four years later, I graduated with a major in Art History!

Such is the power of AP coursework to lead you to bigger things, things you had not imagined. These introductory college-level classes taken during high school carry college credit, if you score well enough on the standardized exam at the end of the year, too. As vociferous debates over the implementation of Common Core rage across the country, especially in Louisiana, the push is for more rigorous curriculum that prepares students for college or other post-secondary schooling. AP coursework fits the bill.

Louisiana currently ranks first in the nation for “advanced placement improvement” for the class of 2013. This means that we have increased the number of seniors scoring a qualifying score of 3 or higher (out of 5) on the exam by 25% while the nationwide average was only six percent.

The Cowen Institute’s AP program, AdvanceNOLA, accounted for 641 exams last year. It’s not much compared to the 10,553 exams in the state, but our numbers represent a very special story. Our students account for 25% of the exams taken and for 25% of the qualifying scores earned by African-American Louisianans. These students, mostly first-generation [to attend college] and low-income, are often several years below grade level. It is a remarkable achievement.

The Cowen Institute's College and Career Readiness team brings AP coursework to 10 open-enrollment New Orleans high schools.

The Cowen Institute’s College and Career Readiness team brings AP coursework to 10 open-enrollment New Orleans high schools.

Of course, not everyone garnered college credit. In 2013, only 7% of the exams by AdvanceNOLA students earned a 3 or above, and another 25% earned a 2 or above (indicating that they were college-ready for the subject but had not mastered the material enough to gain credit.)

If a full 68% of students sitting for exams only scored a 1 for “no recommendation,” why are we running this program at all?

Because the experience of taking a rigorous, college-level course is powerful and transformational. Even if you don’t get college credit, just taking an AP course makes you more likely to pursue college, and more aware of what it takes to persevere and attain a degree. We’re challenging students not just academically, but making them rethink the bounds of their own abilities.

And that is what making a difference is all about.

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