While high schools nationwide seek ways to increase the number of students, especially minorities, taking Advanced Placement classes, Moon Valley High School in the Glendale Union High School District is demonstrating how it is done.
Last week, the district modeled its efforts to a group of board members from the Panasonic Foundation who had travelled to Arizona to learn how Glendale Union has boosted not only the number of its students taking college-level AP classes, but also passing AP exams and earning college credit while still in high school.
The corporate foundation works with urban school districts to implement education reforms that break the links between race, poverty and educational outcomes.
“Our goal is that 20 percent of our students who graduate have taken at least one AP class. We measure that every year,” said Gene Dudo, superintendent of Glendale Union High School District. “The district pays for every students’ AP tests. Every student that signs up for an AP class, must take the AP exam.”
College Board named Glendale Union the 2013 Advanced Placement National District of the Year among medium-sized districts after it signed up 400 more students for AP classes in two years and 51 percent of students scored a 3 or better on the AP exam, earning college credit.
“We set very high expectations for our kids and we have no problem telling them that,” said Luanne Ashby, Moon Valley High School guidance counselor. “We know you can do it, we’re here to help you get there, and what do you need from us, but we also expect that you’re going to do some of that work as well.”
Nick Chavez, a Moon Valley High School junior, who has taken several AP classes, said he likes how teachers make time before school, after school, during the lunch hour, and provide videos of key concepts for students to review.
“Every decision is about making sure that every one of our kids goes on to higher education,” said Craig Mussi, principal of Moon Valley High School. “That idea can only be achieved if we get them to achieve their full potential in every class they take.”
That process starts by grouping students into small learning communities of 90 to 120 students, who teachers meet with regularly to track students’ progress, talk about students’ successes, use intervention programs as needed and “make sure kids don’t fall through the cracks,” Mussi said.
“If the teachers see you struggling they help you quickly, they don’t let you slip behind,” said Madison O’Neal, a junior taking several AP classes.
“You’re able to build relationships with your teachers. They care about you and not just your academics,” said Ryan Ling, a Moon Valley senior who takes several AP classes.
When Trevor Packer, senior vice president of AP and College Readiness for College Board, presented the award, he said adding more students to AP courses and having more take the exam often leads to test results going down, but not for Glendale Union.
“In just two year’s time, you’ve added 400 students and the scores have gone up at a higher rate and to a larger degree than any other school district in the country, and you serve a higher percentage of underserved minority students than most districts nationwide,” Packer said.
Nationally, 61,250 students of color and 60,300 students from low-income backgrounds perform among the top 25 percent of all students in reading and math at the beginning of high school, but of them leave high school with lower AP exam rates, lower SAT/ACT scores, and lower GPAs than their high-achieving white and more advantaged peers, which influences their choices beyond high school, according to “Falling Out of the Lead: Following High Achievers Through High School and Beyond.”
Interviews with high-achieving students from around the country and a principal of a successful school describe what schools can do to better serve minority students and those with low-income backgrounds, according to this report released in April 2014 by The Education Trust.
Glendale Union has 15,000 students in nine traditional high schools and one alternative high school. Fifty percent of students are Hispanic, 59 percent are on free- and reduced-meals, 10 percent are in special education, 4.3 percent of students are homeless, and 3.2 percent are English Language Learners with 24 different languages represented, Dudo said.
“When you look at Glendale Union High School District, we serve a diverse population at all of our high schools,” Dudo said.
The Glendale Union dropout rate is a little over two percent, the graduation rate fluctuates between 88 percent and 92 percent, and all district schools qualify for Title I funding.
“Title I funding is an integral part of our district interventions funding our Read 180 literacy specialist, math intervention specialist, various summer extended learning programs for students, after-school assistance labs and professional development for our teachers,” Dudo said.
During their visit, Panasonic Foundation members spoke with Moon Valley High School students and teachers and toured classrooms to observe and saw “evidence of the power of a school culture that revolves around high expectations for all students,” said Scott Thompson, assistant executive director of the Panasonic Foundation.
“We saw students from diverse backgrounds engaged in challenging and meaningful school work that is aimed at readiness for college and career,” Thompson said. “We saw faculty and school leaders that are passionately committed to helping those students achieve.”
Panasonic Foundation members will bring what they learned from Glendale Union to their long-term partnerships with eight public school districts around the country and the 14 superintendents of New Jersey public school districts they meet with each month to focus on equity and excellence in education, Thompson said.
“We develop partnership goals relating to the foundation’s mission to break the links between race, poverty, and educational outcomes so that all students – all means all – are realizing academic and social success,” Thompson said.
The Panasonic Foundation partners with public school districts that serve at least 7,000 students where at least 30 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
“We arrange for a pairs of highly experienced educational consultants to visit the district several days each month over the life of the partnership,” Thompson said. “The monthly visits focus on advancing the work around the mutually defined goals.”
In Glendale Union, teachers and counselors talk to students who show strengths in different content areas to encourage them to take honors and AP classes, Mussi said.
“For graduating seniors, we have about 42 percent who have taken an AP class in their high school career,” said Mussi.
Also, as students in reading and math two-hour lab classes master concepts and become more confident, teachers encourage them to challenge themselves in one-hour classes, and become honors students and take AP classes, said Jessica Coates, math intervention specialist at Moon Valley High School.
“We also give kids the confidence that they can be successful, regardless what’s going on around them outside of school,” Ashby said. “They can use this as a jumping off point to the next level – whether it’s post-secondary school, vocational, technical training, the military, community college, or university. We want kids to pursue what they love and do it to the best of their ability.”
Glendale Union is now working to identify more students to take AP classes, trying to get more students to take the PSAT, and use that as a way to identify more students ready for AP classes, Dudo said.
“I really like the push for the AP classes, because it’s a really good way for going through with the mission for pursuing higher education,” said Justine Cardenas, a senior. “I feel like we’re more prepared for college.”
Maihan Alam, a Moon Valley High School senior who has taken several AP classes, said the teachers and school “prepare kids so well for higher education and careers.”
“We push them, we push them, and when they don’t like it we push a little harder, because we know that we want them to eventually get that ball rolling for themselves and move on to great things,” Ashby said.
“It is evident to the foundation that Moon Valley High School is part of a district with a strong focus on equity and excellence and with strong district and school leadership that is manifest is a unified focus on actively and effectively helping all students to succeed with a rigorous academic curriculum,” Thompson said. “In short, we were both inspired and impressed.”