As enrollment in AP classes continues to rise, Southern Utah administrators discuss benefits, growth

ST. GEORGEOne month removed from the final exams of the school year, students and educators in Southern Utah high schools are still awaiting the results of the Advanced Placement tests.

Stock image | Photo by F1Digitals/Pixabay, St. George News

AP courses are college-level classes offered in high school that culminate in a final exam where a score of 3 or higher (out of a 5-point scale) qualifies the student for college credit at many institutions of higher education.

Principal Dennis Heaton of Canyon View High School said that his school, like many throughout Southern Utah, encourages students to take AP courses for several reasons.

“We want students to do as demanding of work as they can to get the maximum benefit,” Heaton said. “And then from a practical standpoint, a regular kid who is a reasonably good student and willing to work can pretty easily get a full year of college done through their concurrent enrollment and AP courses.”

Canyon View High School currently offers eight AP courses for students in grades 10-12, including human geography, calculus, psychology, U.S. government and more.  

A view of the exterior of Dixie High School, St. George, Utah, June 16, 2021 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

Sherry Bushnell, the testing coordinator at Dixie High School, said that her school’s most popular AP subjects correspond with those most popular in the Washington County School District. The psychology, U.S. history and English language courses were among the top four at her school and in the district.

“AP psychology was really strong this year, and AP United States history is always strong,” Bushnell said. “They’re usually taking the course all year or the half-year course, and then they take the course. I would say most of them are 11th graders, but we do have 12th and 10th graders take them as well.”

In addition to the benefits of rigor and the college credits earned, high school students applying to colleges and universities that have AP courses on their transcripts might have better odds when it comes to admissions, Bushnell said. 

According to data published by the Utah State Board of Education in late February, the percentage of Utah students taking and passing AP exams has risen significantly in the past decade. 

In 2020, around 37% of high school seniors in Utah enrolled in an AP course, with 25% of seniors earning a 3 or higher (out of a 5-point scale). Compare that to 2010, when only 30.5% of seniors enrolled in AP courses and only 20.7% passed.

Utah students passed AP exams at a rate of 65.6%, 10th best in the nation. New Jersey led the nation with 71.6%.

For the Washington County School District in 2021, AP courses had a total enrollment of 2,038 students – including sophomores, juniors and seniors. Enrollment increased by about 10% from 2020, with 183 more students than last year.

In this 2020 file photo, Iron County School District offices are now occupied following a move, Cedar City, Utah | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

By comparison, the Iron County School District had a total of 148 students earn credit through AP courses in 2020, which would correspond to a total enrollment of around 250 students, according to data provided by the state of Utah. 

While numbers to compare 2020’s enrollment to past years were not currently available, AP enrollment has most likely slowed in recent years, said Roy Mathews, director of secondary education for the Iron County School District.

“For us, I see AP as filling in some gaps,” he said. “We’re pretty heavily invested in concurrent enrollment. Our AP (enrollment) will either stay steady or probably drop. However, a lot of counselors will tell you that if you pass an AP exam, you’re college-ready for that content.”

Mathews said that the district is primarily interested in students getting college credit and being prepared for success, whether that’s through AP courses or concurrent enrollment.

Updated information and final numbers for enrollment and passing rate for AP exams in the 2020-21 school year will become available once students and schools get the results in July.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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