BLOOMFIELD – Highly motivated and hardworking Catholic high school students excelled in Advanced Placement testing and stand to gain much more than award certificates and congratulatory letters, archdiocesan school officials said.
Advanced Placement tests, administered by the College Board, provide students the opportunity to earn college credit and/or advanced placement at most colleges and universities. Catholic high school students in Connecticut, along with approximately 1.6 million students worldwide, took AP exams in May after completing rigorous college-level classes.
All Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of Hartford and in the Norwich Diocese offer AP courses that prepare students for the national exams. This year, when AP Scholar Award information was published in August, several Catholic schools achieved exceptional and noteworthy results.
More students than ever at Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford and at Sacred Heart Academy in Hamden received AP Scholar Awards, according to staff members at those schools.
AP exams are offered on a wide range of subject areas, including English, computer science, foreign languages, studio art, music theory and more.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to stretch yourself,” said Anita Rackow, guidance counselor and AP coordinator at East Catholic High School in Manchester. “The AP program is extremely demanding. It’s not appropriate for everyone.
“It requires academic talent, the interest and the motivation,” she said. “AP is testing college-level work and college-level thinking, so the program and the courses are not made for the faint of heart.”
The exams are scored on a numeric scale from 1 to 5. Students who receive grades of 3 or higher on three or more exams are designated AP Scholars. Students with scores of 3 or better on four or more exams with an average of 3.25 are designated AP Scholars with Honor. AP Scholars with Distinction are those who score 3 or higher on five or more exams and have an average of 3.5 or better.
Only 182 of more than 21,000 Connecticut students who sat for AP exams received the National AP Scholar Award, which requires an average of 4 or better on all exams taken and grades of 4 or better on eight or more exams.
Twenty-five students from Northwest Catholic were named AP Scholars; six were recognized as AP Scholars with Honor; and three were awarded AP Scholar with Distinction.
At Sacred Heart Academy, 17 received AP Scholar Awards; five qualified as AP Scholars with Honor; and three were designated as AP Scholars with Distinction. In addition, all seven students who took the AP psychology exam earned the top score of 5.
Students from Xavier High School in Middletown also achieved exceptional results. Thirty-two students were recognized as AP Scholars. Nine were designated as AP Scholars with Distinction, five were recognized as AP Scholars with Honor, and one student received a National AP Scholar Award.
AP achievement at East Catholic High School was also impressive, with all 11 students who took the AP biology exam earning the top score of 5.
“That’s very, very, very special. It’s never happened before,” said Mrs. Rackow, who has been a guidance counselor at the school for 23 years. “We’ve always had a tremendous number of 4’s and 5’s, but we’ve never had every student achieve a 5. This is the kind of thing that happens very rarely at any school.”
“[The biology students] are extremely motivated by their teacher, Ms. [Lesa] Milas. She makes learning enjoyable and intriguing. Students want to delve deeper and they perform at an extremely high level,” said Mrs. Rackow.
“I’d take some of the credit for providing the framework and giving them the tools, but they have to execute,” said Ms. Milas, who has taught biology there for 25 years. “They still have to put in the hours, they have to think about what they are doing, and they have to actually integrate the information and be able to apply it.”
Ms. Milas tells her students that in going for an AP program, they have to take the long view about putting in the hard work. They have to realize that in their junior or senior years, their friends will have lighter course loads and that sometimes on Saturday afternoons they might be writing a lab report rather than enjoying free time, she said.
“You have to accept some of the crazy demands that come with AP courses,” she said, “I’ve been fortunate to work with students that are highly motivated who also have that long view and understand that which they sacrifice for now, hopefully, will pay off with opportunity at the college level.”
In addition to the 11 perfect scores, 18 students at East Catholic received AP Scholar Awards; four were named AP Scholars with Honor; and four were recognized as AP Scholars with Distinction.
Over 90 percent of four-year colleges in the United States provide credit and/or placement for qualifying scores. Students who receive AP credits have the opportunity to pursue a double major, study abroad or take on an internship and still graduate in the same amount of time.
They can also take more advanced courses that may be more interesting and meaningful for them and there may also be a financial payoff, said Mrs. Rackow.
“Parents say the AP exam fee is expensive, but at $86 that is very inexpensive compared to what you pay for a college course. In those terms, it’s financially a very good deal and a good situation,” she said. She added that taking the AP exams “demonstrates to colleges a student’s preparation for the college experience.”