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posted: 6/8/2013 8:00 AM

More Latinos in U-46 taking advanced placement exams, study says

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Elgin Area School District U-46 has been recognized in a national study for the number of Latino students taking and passing Advanced Placement exams in its schools.

A report by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation examined four years of AP exam data for 75 school districts that qualify for the annual Broad Prize for Urban Education. The report focuses almost exclusively on districts increasing participation by black students, but it also highlights five districts seeing similar success for Latinos.

U-46 is the only district in Illinois highlighted in either category. Eligible districts are chosen based on size, low-income and minority enrollment and urban environment.

The state's second-largest district, U-46 is working to expand participation in AP classes as part of its strategic plan, called Destination 2015. It hopes to have students take 3,375 tests by 2015, an ambitious goal requiring rapid expansion.

"We certainly are working hard to create a challenging learning environment that encourages all high-performing students to pursue rigorous AP courses and reach their full potential, thus closing the equity and excellence gap," said Superintendent José Torres in a prepared statement.

The number of AP exams taken throughout the district grew from 1,183 in 2008 to 2,668 in 2012, according to district data. In the same period, the rate of students scoring three or higher on a five-point scale has also gone up.

The district data released last fall also shows the number of Latino students taking AP exams growing from 2010 to 2012: 294 students in 2010 and 494 in 2012.

The number of black students in U-46 taking AP exams grew from 42 in 2010 to 79 in 2012.

The Broad Foundation report was released Wednesday and examines AP exam participation and passing rates from 2008 to 2011. It begins with the premise that most school districts have seen passing rates decline as access to and participation in AP exams has increased.

The foundation wanted to find schools where that was not true, where greater participation by black students closed the gap between them and their white peers but not as white students' achievement suffered.

The study found six districts where passing rates for black students rose fast enough to limit the gap while increasing or maintaining participation levels in Advanced Placement classes overall. Researchers found the same trend for Latino students in U-46.

But the report authors make clear the job is not complete. The report points to the "glacial pace" at which the achievement gap is closing between black and white students, even in the best cases.

Torres received the recognition with similar pragmatism.

"While we applaud the steady progress occurring in our schools, more must be done to ensure that every student achieves academic success and leaves U-46 ready to begin college or start a career," Torres said. "Regardless of race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status."

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