LAND O'LAKES — They're not official yet.
But as the latest Advanced Placement results filter through Pasco County high schools, educators mostly like what they see.
The number of tests taken shot up 30 percent, to 3,619. And the passing rate rose to 48 percent, up from 41 percent last year. A passing score is 3 or higher on the 5-point scale.
Improvements came across the county, with the numbers of exams and the passing rates up at just about every high school. District officials, who had been disappointed with low numbers of students taking AP tests in previous years, hope to see the increases continue.
Advanced Placement "is a good way to introduce motivated, energetic, bright kids to a very rigorous curriculum," said Ray Bonti, principal of Wiregrass High School, which saw the number of students taking the tests more than double. "The colleges tell us as competitive as they are now, they want a history of completing rigorous courses (for applicants), and AP is one of them."
Wiregrass Ranch saw a 59 percent passing rate in its ninth-grade human geography AP course, compared with a national rate of just under 50 percent. The course focuses on the way people impact and interact with the environment.
Pasco and other Florida districts are pushing this year to have students face more challenging coursework earlier in high school, as the state begins to include AP participation and passage in its school grading system.
Even if students don't pass the exams, many educators say, the exposure to higher level class work helps prepare them for college.
Anclote, Land O'Lakes, River Ridge and Wesley Chapel high schools plan to add the human geography class this year. Sunlake, which already offers it, had a 53 percent passing rate.
Gulf High plans to greatly expand its AP offerings, particularly in English and history.
Principal Steve Knobl said the curriculum dovetails nicely with the school's International Baccalaureate program, and it will allow more students to get college-level instruction and, possibly, credits. At the junior level, he said, Gulf is down to just one section of honors English and U.S. history for the new academic year.
"One of our school goals is by 2011 that 60 percent of our students will have had an experience in an AP class, those that are college-bound," Knobl said.
Key to the success is the proper training of teachers.
Gulf saw just one of its 21 AP biology students pass the exam this spring. Knobl said he is sending the teacher to get additional AP training so the students can be better prepared this year.
Ed Braddy, an AP biology and chemistry teacher at Mitchell High, agreed that teacher training is key. He works with the College Board, which runs the AP program, to prepare teachers.
Braddy's students had a 63 percent passing rate in biology this past spring.
Once the teachers are ready, he said, the students must buy into the idea that they will be taking tough college level classes.
"The kids have to want it," he said. "You've got to market it. Kids need to understand what they're getting into. Once you establish that, and you have good, motivated teachers, then enrollment should increase."
Mitchell students took 629 AP exams — the highest number in Pasco County — with a 57 percent passing rate.
On the other end of the spectrum stood Hudson High, where students took just 64 exams, down from 108 a year ago, and saw a passing rate of 17 percent. Hudson offered four AP courses, compared with 13 at River Ridge, Wiregrass Ranch and Wesley Chapel, and 15 at Land O'Lakes.
Plans this year call for Hudson to increase its offerings to 10 AP courses serving more than 400 students.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.