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Hillsborough school reflects rise in Advanced Placement classes, good and bad

East Bay High sophomore Rachael Jeter and about 300 other students take a practice Advanced Placement test Friday. There has been a big increase in participation in AP courses in Florida.

SKIP O\u2019ROURKE | Times

East Bay High sophomore Rachael Jeter and about 300 other students take a practice Advanced Placement test Friday. There has been a big increase in participation in AP courses in Florida.

GIBSONTON — Last fall, Cydni Thomas, a red-haired 10th-grader who raises blue-ribbon chickens, hunkered down for the hardest class she ever had.

Cydni (pronounced "Sydney") had never heard of Advanced Placement World History. But one of her teachers at East Bay High School told her she could handle it. And if it could help make her a Florida Gator, well then, the 16-year-old figured she would give it a shot.

But the reading load crushed her. Ancient civilizations made her head spin. Her first report card showed an F. A few months in, Cydni wanted out.

But her teacher, a blunt-talking retired Army officer named Dale Hueber, had other ideas. He showed Cydni what a top student's work looked like. He told her how to catch up and where to get extra help. He said she shouldn't be afraid to speak up in class. Then he gave her something even more valuable:

He said, You can do this.

• • •

For decades, AP classes — college-caliber courses in everything from English to biology to statistics — were reserved for an exclusive club. And its members tended to be white, suburban and confidently college bound.

But no more. Increasingly, AP classes are filling up with students who are "average" and low income, black and Hispanic.

From 2004 to 2008, the number of students across the country participating in AP rose from 1.1 million to 1.6 million. In Florida, the numbers jumped from 68,000 to 118,000, making it a national leader.

At Cydni's school, AP is the new normal.

East Bay High does not conjure images of calculus parties. It's down the street from the billowing stacks of TECO Energy's Big Bend power plant, and smack dab in a patch of Florida best known for retired circus performers. The state says it's a C school.

And yet, its AP rates are soaring. Five years ago, 58 East Bay students took the standardized exams that accompany AP courses, fewer than any school in Hillsborough. But last year, 297 did. And for this year's testing season, which begins Monday, 453 will.

"I always said my top kids could compete with the top kids in the district," said East Bay principal Sharon Morris.

The line from AP supporters goes like this: Raise expectations. Offer more support. And watch as supposedly middle-of-the-road students conquer AP, go to college and do better once they get there.

The arguments are compelling. But the proof isn't in yet.

Many AP newbies in Florida are not passing AP tests, which would be a good predictor of success in college. East Bay students took 206 more AP tests last year, but only 37 more tests had passing scores. In Florida, the percentage of passed tests has fallen from 55.6 percent in 2000 to 42 percent last year.

The state wants that to change. Beginning this fall, the state's grading formula for high schools will rely less on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and more on other factors, including AP scores.

The cranked-up accountability ensures that the tough questions that now quietly surround AP will be amplified.

Should so many kids take AP classes, even if they're not headed for college? Can pushing kids so far, so fast demoralize those who fall short? Are the new AP kids prepared enough?

Are teachers being trained enough to help them? Will AP classes be watered down so the new kids can keep pace?

Will the brightest kids lose out?

In a report that drew national attention last week, the Fordham Institute surveyed 1,000 AP teachers. Most said they're holding down the fort on AP quality. But more than half also said too many AP kids are "in over their heads."

Supporters say students benefit, even if they don't pass the tests. They learn what a college-level course is like. They find out how much sweat it takes to succeed in one. And they're more likely to try another AP course and work harder the next time. Those students, they say, become more college focused and more college ready.

In truth, the research findings into those claims are mixed and minimal. But fair-minded observers wouldn't expect scores to rise overnight.

Hillsborough is pushing AP more than any other district in Florida. But it didn't go gangbusters until last year, when it inked a three-year deal with the College Board, the company that oversees AP.

It takes time for all the pieces — more student support, more teacher training, new teaching strategies to gel, said Eric Bergholm, who directs Hillborough's AP programs and was once principal at South Tampa's Plant High, as well-oiled an AP factory as there is in the country.

"You have to be realistic," Bergholm said. "As times goes on, in three years, four years, five years, everything is going to look different."

• • •

The new face of AP is shy, soft-spoken and rosy cheeked.

Cydni lives with her mom and 14-year-old brother in Ruskin, along with two dogs and two horses. They have one neighbor named Peachy, and another who drives a double-decker swamp buggy that would be at home on My Big Redneck Wedding.

Cydni doesn't wear her heart on her sleeve. But it's on the girly-girl pink of her bedroom walls: a flock of Tinker Bells, 14 ribbons for raising chickens and cows, and enough orange and blue to make a Seminole gag.

Gator lamp. Gator license plate. Gator slippers.

"I really want to go to UF," Cydni said. "The No. 1 vet school. That's where I want to be."

Taking AP classes, she was told, would help her get there. But she worried before signing up. So did her mom, Cynthia Liles, a tropical fish farmer.

The teachers made no bones about it: AP was hard. And Cydni had been an average student. She took some standard classes, some honors. Did good in math. Okay in English.

East Bay looked at Cydni's GPA, her standardized test scores, her discipline record and teacher recommendations. They said she was AP material.

So with visions of Tim Tebow dancing in her head, Cydni dove in — and floundered.

As if Mesopotamia and the spread of Buddhism weren't exotic enough, Cydni had to master what 10 years of schooling somehow failed to teach her: how to take good notes. How to write clear essays. How to discipline herself enough to read 20 pages every other night.

When she got the F, Cydni thought, "My mom's going to kill me."

When Mom saw the F, she thought, There goes the Bright Futures scholarship.

"I want to support my children, but I want a happy medium," said Liles, who graduated from Ruskin Christian School and spent a year at Liberty University in Virginia.

Who wants their kid to fail?

• • •

Late April. A Saturday morning. In Room 006, 14 tenth-graders — half white; half black or Hispanic — are going over a 70-question practice test with Hueber.

"They're going to ask you the definition of feudalism," he says. "What is it?"


Hueber slumps his shoulders.

"A political system," a girl offers.

"A political system," Hueber affirms.

Dale Hueber, 53, bristles with urgency. He spent 22 years in the Army, retired as a lieutenant colonel, then went into teaching. He has been doing it eight years, all at East Bay.

He makes no apologies for being old school. No slang. No gimmicks. He expects his students to learn the material, and if they fall short, he may cock his head to the side, or sigh, or say, "Oh God, come on."

Hueber is no-nonsense about Hillsborough's AP vision, too.

When he first started teaching AP World History five years ago, he had one class with 13 students. The cream of the crop. Now he has four classes and 83 students. The top kids are still there. But so are some who are marginal readers.

Yes, Hueber said, that means teachers must work harder. Yes, some are frustrated. Yes, he thinks the school cracked the AP doors open a little too wide. Yes, a few students have dropped out.

But no, he's not second guessing what the district is doing. Most of the new AP kids are proud enough to try their best, he said. Most are learning something.

And all of them deserve a better shot at the American Dream than other classes were giving them.

"They're stretching me," he said. "I've had to slow down in some cases. I've had to rework some of my instruction. And I'm still not happy about what I'm doing."

But "I know these kids can get it," he said. "If they're not getting there, I'm not doing something right."

• • •

Cydni decided to gut it out.

She attended Mr. Hueber's Saturday sessions. She worked three to four hours every other night. She pulled her first all nighter.

She started thinking, I like learning about revolutions.

Her F has become a C.

"It's passing (but) I think I can do better," Cydni said.

She'll have a chance to prove it next year, when she takes three AP classes.

She signed up for them on her own.

Ron Matus can be reached at or (727) 893-8873.

by the numbers

Growth in AP classes

1.1 million Students nationwide participating in Advanced Placement in 2004.

1.6 million Students nationwide participating in AP in 2008.

68,000 Florida students participating in AP in 2004.

118,000 Florida students participating in AP in 2008.

AP test taken

For decades, AP classes were reserved for the brainiest students, but more and more they are filling up with "average" students as the state and school districts push for increased participation in AP courses. Check out how schools in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Hernando and Pasco stacked up in the number of AP tests between 2004 and 2008.
District High School 2008 Total Tests Taken 2004 Total Tests Taken Percent Change 04-08 Tests Taken
Hernando Central 370 37 900%
Hernando F W Springstead 296 332 -11%
Hernando Hernando 170 19 795%
Hernando Nature Coast Tech 85
Hillsborough Armwood 575 139 314%
Hillsborough Bloomingdale 1252 1097 14%
Hillsborough Brandon 596 232 157%
Hillsborough Braulio Alonso 1138 429 165%
Hillsborough Bryan Altern Ctr 1
Hillsborough C Leon King 1129 931 21%
Hillsborough Chamberlain 940 568 65%
Hillsborough Debartolo Collegiate 19
Hillsborough Dr Earl J
Hillsborough Durant 654 268 144%
Hillsborough East Bay 409 66 520%
Hillsborough Freedom 930 301 209%
Hillsborough Gaither 1042 508 105%
Hillsborough H B Plant 2123 1336 59%
Hillsborough Hillsborough 1218 1096 11%
Hillsborough Howard W Blake 631 269 135%
Hillsborough Leto Comp 443 116 282%
Hillsborough Meacham Altern Ctr 1
Hillsborough Middleton 439 143 207%
Hillsborough Newsome 1150 107 975%
Hillsborough Paul R
735 461 59%
Hillsborough Pepin Academy Charter 1
Hillsborough Plant City 1045 655 60%
Hillsborough Richard Spoto 314
Hillsborough Riverview 661 251 163%
Hillsborough T R Robinson 452 209 116%
Hillsborough Tampa Bay Tech 719 487 48%
Hillsborough Thomas
368 152 142%
Hillsborough Walter L Sickles 1159 529 119%
Pasco Gulf 332 127 161%
Pasco Hudson 108 47 130%
Pasco J W Mitchell 476 331 44%
Pasco Land O Lakes 710 441 61%
Pasco Pasco
123 114 8%
Pasco Ridgewood 111 145 -23%
Pasco River Ridge 375 194 93%
Pasco Sunlake 86
Pasco Wesley
179 113 58%
Pasco Wiregrass Ranch 205
Pasco Zephyrhills 95 170 -44%
Pinellas Boca Ciega 556 309 80%
Pinellas Clearwater 386 376 3%
Pinellas Countryside 213 241 -12%
Pinellas Dixie Hollins 69 68 1%
Pinellas Dunedin 451 261 73%
Pinellas East Lake 933 821 14%
Pinellas Eckerd
Pinellas Gibbs 628 269 133%
Pinellas Lakewood 699 540 29%
Pinellas Largo 101 63 60%
Pinellas Northeast 166 116 43%
Pinellas Osceola 175 131 34%
Pinellas Palm Harbor University 948 864 10%
Pinellas Pinellas Park 202 174 16%
Pinellas Seminole 176 266 -34%
Pinellas St Petersburg Collegiate 6
Pinellas St Petersburg 770 796 -3%
Pinellas Tarpon Springs 312 127 146%
Some schools did not have numbers for 2004.
AP tests passed

For decades, AP classes were reserved for the brainiest students, but more and more they are filling up with "average" students as the state and school districts push for increased participation in AP courses. Check out how schools in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Hernando and Pasco stacked up in the number of AP tests passed between 2004 and 2008.
District High School 2008 Total Passers 2004 Total Passers Perecnt Change
04-08 Passers
Hernando Central 156 7 2129%
Hernando F W Springstead 177 135 31%
Hernando Hernando 44 14 214%
Hernando Nature Coast Tech 22
Hillsborough Armwood 147 63 133%
Hillsborough Bloomingdale 614 602 2%
Hillsborough Brandon 188 130 45%
Hillsborough Braulio Alonso 326 121 169%
Hillsborough Bryan Altern Ctr
Hillsborough C Leon King 705 571 23%
Hillsborough Chamberlain 276 195 42%
Hillsborough Debartolo
Hillsborough Dr Earl J Lennard 40
Hillsborough Durant 226 156 45%
Hillsborough East Bay 126 38 232%
Hillsborough Freedom 447 109 310%
Hillsborough Gaither 340 211 61%
Hillsborough H B Plant 928 714 30%
Hillsborough Hillsborough 569 694 -18%
Hillsborough Howard W Blake 153 165 -7%
Hillsborough Leto Comp 68 56 21%
Hillsborough Meacham Altern Ctr
Hillsborough Middleton 131 47 179%
Hillsborough Newsome 515 71 625%
Hillsborough Paul R Wharton 289 215 34%
Hillsborough Pepin Academy Charter
Hillsborough Plant City 292 240 22%
Hillsborough Richard Spoto 52
Hillsborough Riverview 168 114 47%
Hillsborough T R Robinson 117 68 72%
Hillsborough Tampa Bay Tech 169 148 14%
Hillsborough Thomas Jefferson 151 68 122%
Hillsborough Walter L Sickles 583 302 93%
Pasco Gulf 111 37 200%
Pasco Hudson 23 18 28%
Pasco J W Mitchell 217 171 27%
Pasco Land O Lakes 345 225 53%
Pasco Pasco Comprhns 35 47 -26%
Pasco Ridgewood 55 57 -4%
Pasco River Ridge 151 80 89%
Pasco Sunlake 39
Pasco Wesley Chapel 73 62 18%
Pasco Wiregrass Ranch 64
Pasco Zephyrhills 42 61 -31%
Pinellas Boca Ciega 109 108 1%
Pinellas Clearwater 130 128 2%
Pinellas Countryside 158 148 7%
Pinellas Dixie Hollins 17 19 -11%
Pinellas Dunedin 155 112 38%
Pinellas East Lake 545 337 62%
Pinellas Eckerd Wilderness
Pinellas Gibbs 177 121 46%
Pinellas Lakewood 358 293 22%
Pinellas Largo 49 19 158%
Pinellas Northeast 60 58 3%
Pinellas Osceola 68 20 240%
Pinellas Palm Harbor
573 599 -4%
Pinellas Pinellas Park 55 60 -8%
Pinellas Seminole 118 148 -20%
Pinellas St Petersburg
Pinellas St Petersburg 372 404 -8%
Pinellas Tarpon Springs 125 60 108%
Some schools did not have numbers for 2004.

Percentages 3-5 are not shown where the number of test takers is less than 15.

Students must score 3-5 to pass & possibly get college credit.

AP test takers

For decades, AP classes were reserved for the brainiest students, but more and more they are filling up with "average" students as the state and school districts push for increased participation in AP courses. Check out how schools in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Hernando and Pasco stacked up in the number of AP test takers between 2004 and 2008.
District High School 2008 Total AP Test Takers 2004 AP Test Total Takers Percent Change
Hernando Central 200 36 456%
Hernando F W Springstead 174 179 -3%
Hernando Hernando 133 13 923%
Hernando Nature Coast Tech 78 0
Hillsborough Armwood 409 86 376%
Hillsborough Bloomingdale 634 474 34%
Hillsborough Brandon 397 159 150%
Hillsborough Braulio Alonso 656 277 137%
Hillsborough Bryan Altern Ctr 1
Hillsborough C Leon King 543 461 18%
Hillsborough Chamberlain 413 315 31%
Hillsborough Debartolo
Hillsborough Dr Earl J Lennard 93
Hillsborough Durant 419 199 111%
Hillsborough East Bay 297 58 412%
Hillsborough Freedom 428 172 149%
Hillsborough Gaither 559 283 98%
Hillsborough H B Plant 889 555 60%
Hillsborough Hillsborough 632 461 37%
Hillsborough Howard W Blake 430 203 112%
Hillsborough Leto Comp 266 77 245%
Hillsborough Meacham Altern Ctr 1
Hillsborough Middleton 253 131 93%
Hillsborough Newsome 645 76 749%
Hillsborough Paul R Wharton 427 282 51%
Hillsborough Pepin Academy Charter 1
Hillsborough Plant City 593 347 71%
Hillsborough Richard Spoto 202
Hillsborough Riverview 418 170 146%
Hillsborough T R Robinson 295 142 108%
Hillsborough Tampa Bay Tech 536 282 90%
Hillsborough Thomas
232 103 125%
Hillsborough Walter L Sickles 555 281 98%
Pasco Gulf 198 76 161%
Pasco Hudson 65 37 76%
Pasco J W Mitchell 273 174 57%
Pasco Land O Lakes 321 211 52%
Pasco Pasco Comprhns 83 67 24%
Pasco Ridgewood 77 101 -24%
Pasco River Ridge 173 98 77%
Pasco Sunlake 55
Pasco Wesley Chapel 106 76 39%
Pasco Wiregrass Ranch 116
Pasco Zephyrhills 58 107 -46%
Pinellas Boca Ciega 346 192 80%
Pinellas Clearwater 243 224 8%
Pinellas Countryside 157 167 -6%
Pinellas Dixie Hollins 51 51 0%
Pinellas Dunedin 277 125 122%
Pinellas East Lake 387 378 2%
Pinellas Eckerd
Pinellas Gibbs 350 204 72%
Pinellas Lakewood 260 221 18%
Pinellas Largo 85 57 49%
Pinellas Northeast 113 79 43%
Pinellas Osceola 137 91 51%
Pinellas Palm Harbor
454 387 17%
Pinellas Pinellas Park 126 107 18%
Pinellas Seminole 134 148 -9%
Pinellas St Petersburg
Pinellas St Petersburg 462 358 29%
Pinellas Tarpon Springs 260 101 157%
Some schools did not have numbers for 2004.

Hillsborough school reflects rise in Advanced Placement classes, good and bad 05/01/09 [Last modified: Monday, May 4, 2009 3:33pm]
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