The Pleasant Valley School District is one of two Iowa districts to be honored by the College Board for Advanced Placement (AP) programming.
“Truly, if I were asked what we’re doing right, I think it’s the students,” said Val Tucker, AP Coordinator for Pleasant Valley. “I think they’re very serious about doing well in the courses that would best challenge them.
In May, 238 Pleasant Valley high school students will take up to 437 exams in 13 subject areas. With around 1,300 students enrolled at the high school, that's nearly 20 percent of students enrolled in AP classes, typically taken in a student’s junior or senior year.
“We’re going to begin offering some to ninth- and tenth-grade students in social studies, but the majority thus far have absolutely been eleventh- and twelfth- grade students,” Tucker said.
The College Board acknowledges districts that increase the percentage of students taking exams, and those students “passing,” with a score of three, four or five.
Cedar Falls was also added to the College Board’s Ninth Annual Honor Roll; this is the second year both districts made the roll. More than 370 districts in the U.S. and Canada made the list.
Tucker said part of Pleasant Valley’s success comes from making sure students are prepared for the rigor of an AP class before enrolling.
“We still look very closely at placement and recommended placement for students, either in pre-requisite courses or, with the younger students, it will be a combination of performance on assessments and academically,” she said. “We do make recommendations for students who have shown they will be successful in a more demanding course.”
Still, Tucker said the choice is ultimately up to the students, and they will not be blocked from enrolling if they've taken the prerequisite classes.
“If a student really wants to take on the challenge, we don’t prevent them, but we do want to make sure that students are academically prepared,” she said. “That has been our approach, as opposed to getting a large number of students and having them not take the exam, or not do well.”
Next year, the district will be adding two new AP courses: 3-D Art and Computer Science.
While the AP 3-D Art class is entirely new, Tucker said the AP Computer Science class is a name change, as the course was already designed with the AP Test in mind.
“Students who took the course were taking the AP Exam anyway,” she said.
Between opening up some AP social studies classes to younger students and adding the two new courses, Pleasant Valley’s percentage of students in at least one AP class is expected to increase.
Tucker said the emphasis will remain on making sure kids are in classes most appropriate for them.
“We want to make sure we’re setting everyone up to be successful, and clearly communicate the differences between an AP course and a traditional college prep course,” she said.