Sam R. Hall

Sam R. Hall is executive editor of the Daily Journal.

One of the better trends in education over the past several years is a commitment toward increasing career and technical readiness for students. The aim is geared mostly toward those looking to prepare for a career shortly after high school instead of a four-year college degree.

Dual credit and dual enrollment programs have also grown, and theoretically serve both the career-minded and the college-minded high school student alike. For instance, Tupelo Public Schools District offers a Middle College program that allows participating students the opportunity to graduate with an associate’s degree from Itawamba Community College at the same time they graduate high school.

Other dual credit or dual enrollment programs give students the opportunity to get core coursework out of the way so they can focus on whatever best suits them for the next stage of their lives — whether that’s coursework for an associate’s degree or quickly moving into their advanced studies toward a four-year degree.

But as these programs grow, the potential for the most advanced students to become collateral damage is growing.

Already we see some schools combining Advanced Placement classes with dual credit classes. In some cases, this is fine, but in many — if not most — it is not. The curriculum followed is the college curriculum for the class, which doesn’t always align with the content and skills students need for the AP test. AP classes are often more rigorous than dual credit classes. The results of combining such classes are often fewer students taking the AP test or lower scores for those who do.

AP test scores are critical for advanced students. For one, the higher a student scores, the more credit they can receive on the college level. Furthermore, students who take multiple AP classes and do well on the tests can gain scholarship money and special recognition, the latter important for college applications.

Colleges often give more weight to AP classes than dual credit ones when considering admissions. Ironically, most states have the opposite approach. State ratings and even funding often place more importance on dual credit and dual enrollment classes than AP. Community colleges — which often are the partner in dual credit and dual enrollment classes — also advocate for those over AP courses.

For this reason, schools are being incentivized to encourage and grow the dual tracts rather than the AP programs. It is kind of the opposite of what we saw happen decades ago, when public education deemphasized career and technical training for college preparatory pathways. School districts across the country are now trying to undo that damage, but this wise and much-needed course correction should not be done at the expense of students seeking advanced, rigorous courses.

In neighboring Louisiana, East Baton Rouge Parish School District is taking a step toward the extreme with its dual enrollment programs. Superintendent Sito Narcisse has unveiled a program that replaces many traditional high school courses with required dual enrollment classes that will be taught at the schools. Narcisse told The Advocate newspaper that he favors dual enrollment over AP because the credit is guaranteed with the former if the student passes the class with a C or higher, whereas credit is harder to obtain with AP classes because a certain score on a rigorous test is required.

Notably, participation in AP courses has continued to grow across the country and in Mississippi. In 2018, 10,712 Mississippi students participated in AP classes, a 46% increase over 10 years ago. Numbers slipped in 2019 and 2020 nationwide because of COVID-19; otherwise, Mississippi has seen constant growth for more than 40 years.

But while the number of students continued to increase at a good pace, the number of tests being taken has started to slow. In 2015, there was a 20% increase over the prior year. In 2016, it was 11%. By 2017, there was no growth. And in 2018, we saw the first year-over-year decline in AP tests being taken in nearly 10 years. This is a worrisome trend for our most advanced students.

Our educational system must be robust. It cannot pigeonhole students into just one track. We must provide for career readiness, a jumpstart for those looking to enter college and opportunities for the brightest students who want to be challenged. Let’s not sacrifice that latter group. If we do so, we’ve learned nothing from past educational failures.

SAM R. HALL is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at sam.hall@djournal.com or follow @samrhall on Twitter.

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