MVRHS students score high marks on advanced placement tests

— File photo by Ralph Stewart

As a group, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School students scored well above average in Advance Placement tests taken last year. The scores were announced last July.

Eighty percent of the current class of seniors who took the Advanced Placement (AP) English Language and Composition exam last May scored a four or a five. Worldwide, only 30.1 percent earn either a four or a five. The tests are scored on a scale of one to five, with five the highest possible score.

“Their scores were record-setting, the best ever on the exam since the AP program started at our school 25 years ago,” said Dan Sharkovitz one of two teachers who teach AP English. “Basically, for our students to out-perform the world by 50 points is stunning.” Twenty-four of the thirty students who took the test achieved the top scores.

Mr. Sharkovitz attributes the success of last year’s class to two things. One, the willingness of the students to work together. He said they were a special group who pushed each other to do better in the challenging course. “We had a extraordinary group of students who, when confronted with something really difficult, instead of going down to guidance and withdrawing from the course stayed and learned to do what they had to do,” he said.

The second factor he said was that he and Keith Dodge, who also taught AP English last year, have refined the class over the years and have learned to teach for the exams. He said it helps that Mr. Dodge is an incredible teacher.

MVRHS students performed at a high level in a number of other AP subjects as well. Over all, MVRHS students took 200 exams. Forty-one percent scored in the top two tiers. Three of four who took the Spanish language test scored in the top two tiers, all five Calculus BC exam results were in the top two, as were three of six in biology. The lone student who took the psychology exam scored a five.

According to guidance director Michael McCarthy, who oversees the AP program, MVRHS offers both AP classes and honors classes. The former are “…college-level courses taught at the high school, while honors classes are college prep classes that offer a fast-paced, high-level of study.”

In some cases students can reduce the amount of time and money needed to finish an undergraduate degree in college, according to Mr. McCarthy, or they can use the credits to earn multiple colleges degrees. He said that high AP scores can help a student in the college admissions process.

Admission to an AP class is criteria based. A student must be enrolled in a prerequisite class in the same subject to qualify and score a 90 or better in a regular class or an 85 or better in an honors class or 80 or better in a previous AP class. A teacher recommendation is also required. Only sophomores, juniors, and seniors can take AP classes.

“We have a large selection of AP courses for a school our size,” Mr. McCarthy said. Last year, MVRHS students took AP tests in 13 different subjects. There were 199 students, 24 percent of all sophomores, juniors, and seniors, who took AP classes last year. The courses are taught by qualified teachers who must be certified by the AP board. They use AP course descriptions to guide them and must submit course syllabi to the board for approval.

The AP program was first established nationwide in the 1950s to give advanced students the opportunity to earn college-level credit while still in high school. The College Board, a nonprofit organization that also administers the Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SATs), oversees the course curriculum and runs the tests. They have run the AP program since 1955. Students must pay $89 to take each test. The College Board provides a $28 fee reduction per exam to students with acute financial need. There are no other costs for taking AP classes.

Developed by a committee composed of college faculty and AP teachers, each course covers the breadth of information, skills, and assignments found in the corresponding college course. The College Board is offering 34 tests in 22 subjects this year. In 2011, nearly two million students worldwide took 3.4 million AP Exams, according to the College Board website,

AP classes are often taken to improve a student’s chances of getting into a top colleges or universities. The Harvard University admissions website says they “value any information that helps us form a complete picture of an applicant’s academic interests and strengths.” It goes on to say that all students are encouraged to submit AP test scores, among other tests, as evidence of the breadth and depth of their academic accomplishments.

While most colleges will look at the AP scores during the admission process, not all colleges give credit for AP test scores. Those that do usually require a score of four or five. Some will only give credit for certain subjects, according to an article published on October 7 in The Boston Globe.

The Globe reported that some colleges now cap the number of AP credits they will accept for placing out of classes and that some no longer accept any. The story also stated that some high schools have limited the number of AP classes that are offered and the number that a student may take. Many high schools have realized that some students overdo it by taking multiple AP courses and tests. In some Boston-area schools more than 80 percent of the students are taking AP courses. This can not only dilute the significance of the tests but also stress the students too much, the article said.