IRHS celebrates AP test scores, award winners for 2015-2016

Date Published: 
September 16, 2016

This past spring, Indian River High School students collectively took 152 Advanced Placement exams. They blew those exams out of the water, earning “qualifying scores” on 76 percent of those exams, far exceeding the national average of 57 percent. They also won about two dozen scholar awards.

“I’m just so proud of them, to see them put forth that type of effort,” Principal Bennett Murray said of the students and staff. “Some of these teachers had 100 percent pass rates. We had nine AP courses this past year [that exceeded national pass rates], and to put that forth that type of effort — these teachers — all that hard work really paid off.”

High-schoolers who earn a “qualifying score” of 3, 4 or 5 may be eligible to receive college credit, based on the college’s requirements.

For 2015-2016, IR earned high rates of qualifying scores on the following exams, hosted by College Board: biology (20/24), calculus (11/15), English lit (12/12), environmental science (12/12), psychology (15/17), statistics (11/16), U.S. history (19/23), English composition (13/15) and computer science (2/3).

The only test where students didn’t have an overwhelming majority pass rate was due to a last-minute staffing change, Murray noted. Excluding that outlier class, IRHS has an 84 percent pass rate.

IR students exceeded the national average in every other category, earning a 100 percent pass rates in two courses.

Murray complimented his school “full of incredible instructors,” including the 2015-2016 AP instructors, Paula Dieste and Michelle Peeling (English language arts), Danette Mumford and Tony Wilson (math), Mark Sewell and Pat Foley (social studies), Megan Hines, Allison Walt and John Jaskewich (science) Jeff Bunting (coaching for computer science).

This fall, Spanish was added, under direction of Nate Kortvelesy.

The test and awards

The test itself is about patience, pacing and confidence under pressure, said Michelle Peeling, 12th-grade English teacher. Tests vary based on subject matter. In English, “You’re asked to read things that are unfamiliar, but you’re asked to apply skills you’ve learned all year in one test.”

Meanwhile, in history, “Students really have to know facts. They have to remember specific historical events, dates … and notable figures,” she said.

“It’s probably the hardest, most gratifying thing a student can do,” Peeling said.

It’s tough work but can boost confidence to have completed such rigorous work.

All students who survive AP are to be congratulated, the staff said. But there are special awards, including AP Scholar with Honor, granted to students who receive an average score of at least 3.25 on all their AP exams and scores of 3 or higher on four or more exams. This past year, the IRHS students who achieved that recognition were John Douds, Ana Elling, Emma Engel, Cameron Goff, Donald Hattier and Taylor Wayland.

AP Scholar is granted to students who receive scores of 3 or higher on three or more exams, which included Brooke Beam, James Brannon, William Cotter, Sofia DiGirolamo, Brandon Galliher, Erin Haden, Dylan Hudson, Kayla Huebner, Adam Izzo, George Martin, Madison McCabe, Lauren McCoy, Hayden McWilliams, Meghan Paulus and Dallas Tucker.

“I am very proud of these students and their teachers for reaching these heights,” Murray stated.

The classroom

Most AP courses are senior-level, although some are offered to younger students, to lighten the load on seniors. They’re tough, often requiring summer homework, as with IR’s other honors classes.

“They take ownership in their own learning,” Peeling said. They learn how to learn, cooperate, think critically and think creatively, and that pride shows through on graduation night.

“I think students who elect AP — they’re obviously very engaged and motivated kids,” Peeling said. But they also have strong educational support from their families and classmates.

“Students are expected to be very independent learners. … I’m more of a facilitator in an AP course, versus a teacher. By the time these kids come to me, they know a lot” thanks to their previous teachers, Peeling said. “So my job is to facilitate the learning, give them some new experiences and figure that path out.”

Her own class had a 100 percent AP pass rate, but Peeling credited the other IR teachers who helped build that educational base for the students, introducing them to the rigor of AP and the joy of learning.

“These scores speak of quality teaching all around, and not just that year,” Peeling said. “I think our scores speak of the effort that these students and teachers have put forth their entire career. By the time these students entered school, these students had teachers who pushed them and challenged them,” as well as supportive families at home.

“I can literally start the first day,” Peeling said. “These kids can walk in, and they’re like, ‘OK — I’m ready to go.’” They want to research, talk and learn.

Students can opt-out of the test, but Peeling really expects them to take it (after all, it’s the whole point of having an AP test).

College courses

Besides AP, the school offers several types of college-level instruction. Starting in eighth grade, students can be invited to Academic Challenge (AC) math or English classes at Delaware Technical Community College, eventually earning University of Delaware credits.

Or they take one of IR’s newer dual-enrollment college courses, such as Delaware Technical Community College (DTCC) sociology, DTCC anatomy, or University of Delaware literature and composition. At the end of the regular high school class, students get a college transcript and final grade. (Other colleges decide whether to accept those credits or not). The district is subsidizing tuition for those courses, so students may pay a few hundred dollars — a fraction of retail college costs.

With all those credits, some grads are starting college as a second-semester freshman, or even sophomores.

“Our goal is not to get them through high school, but give them a jumpstart on college as well,” said Murray, whose own son can double-major in college because his schedule has enough room.

Even if kids don’t get college credit, they’re still going to college with a solid background that could help them breeze through chemistry or math.

“The experience and the level of rigor in that classroom is going to better prepare you for the next level,” Murray said.