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Mass. schools expand access to classes that provide college credit

Massachusetts students again lead the nation based on their performance on Advanced Placement tests. Nearly 31% took one of those rigorous exams and earned a passing score of three or higher.

That’s the top rate among states for the fourth time in six years.

Beyond the stellar national ranking, state officials said, more students are taking the tests, which are considered the equivalent of college-level coursework.

On Wednesday, the College Board, which administers the Advanced Placement tests and curriculum, gave out 26 “AP Access Awards” in a ceremony at the State House. Six of the schools honored expanded AP participation rates among both Black and Latino students, and those from low-income households, by at least 30% in five years.

One of those schools was the B.M.C. Durfee High School in Fall River. Principal Matthew Desmarais has overseen a lot of that growth since taking the school leadership role in 2017.

Part of the success came from starting earlier, he said; the school offers what it calls ‘pre-AP’ to first- and second-year students, “so that students have exposure to what the AP world is like, the strategies that are needed to succeed in those classes, and to build some confidence — to show them that [they] can do this.”

Durfee has partnered with Mass Insight Education & Research, a group focused on advanced academics, to expand its AP offerings, train teachers and rely on AP Seminar — an interdisciplinary course in research and writing, as another form of early exposure — Desmarais said.

Some colleges accept a score of three or higher on an AP test as equivalent to college credit. Others insist on higher scores, or don’t accept the tests at all.

Those potential college credits can help families that are struggling to afford sending students to college, which is partly why Durfee has worked to expand access, Desmarais said. The school also takes part in dual-enrollment or “early college” courses at nearby institutions of higher education, making it at least possible for students to earn enough credits for an associate’s degree before they have graduated high school.

While AP participation is up at Durfee and across the state, scores still show marked disparities on the basis of race and class. Desmarais said his school has set up Saturday study sessions and drawn on online learning to help close that gap.

In a statement sent after Wednesday’s award ceremony, state Secretary of Education Patrick Tutwiler said he is “so proud of all the work that was done by the Commonwealth to expand equity and access to AP coursework.”

“As the superintendent in Lynn, it was a priority of mine to ensure that more students were given the opportunity to succeed in these classes, especially those barred from advanced courses in the past,” he said.


Max Larkin Reporter, Education
Max Larkin is an education reporter.



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