Federal Way says putting more kids in advanced classes worked

Sep 12, 2011

Federal Way's attempt to push kids to the next level may have had some impact. Recent results of exams in advanced courses, the school district says, shows more kids did take the tests without lowering the percentage of passing scores.

Bottom line: More kids in advanced classes + more kids taking the exams and passing = more students who can handle harder classes than they might have taken on their own.

The district hopes that also means more kids will go to college.

The nuts and bolts

The new policy in Federal Way automatically places kids in accelerated classes if they "meet standards" on state tests.

Administrators say they weren't sure the new policy would work, but what they did know was too many kids – especially kids of color – weren’t choosing rigorous classes, like Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate.

Shrae Hogan was a senior at Todd Beamer High School last year … and one of those students pushed into the higher classes.

“I was just planning to take, like, the set amount of classes to graduate. To graduate was my goal,” she said.

That all changed when the district placed her in AP government and required her to get her parent’s permission before she could opt out. She says she buckled down and passed the class, which got her to start thinking about going to college. 

Exams as measure of policy

Educators hoped it would also mean she and other students affected by the policy would do well on the programs’ exams. Though they braced for the opposite.

“In essence, when schools make this first jump to try to increase the number of students enrolled, it’s likely that, from past experience, that overall school performance will drop a little bit," said Josh Garcia, the district’s superintendent of teaching and learning. “So, when the exams came back, we were pleasantly surprised. And candidly, somewhat relieved. Because we knew kids and families were taking a risk and we wanted them to be successful.”

That doesn’t mean everyone aced the tests. In fact, district-wide, scores hardly changed. Before the policy took effect, 40.38% of students passed AP, IB or Cambridge tests. After the district changed the way it enrolls students in these classes, 41.27% passed. 

Garcia says says more students took the exams and, to him, that means the premise of the district's decision is right – more students are able to reach higher goals. 

The district expects enrollment in advanced classes to grow this year and plans to keep adding courses to place those students into.

On the Web: