More suburban Latino students taking, scoring higher on AP tests

 
 
Updated 6/21/2015 9:22 AM
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  • Jaylean Gavina, 18, a recent graduate of Larkin High School in Elgin, credits an Elgin Area School District U-46's program for preparing her for the rigor of college-level courses and taking the Advanced Placement biology test this year. She will be the first person in her family to go to college this fall at Aurora University.

      Jaylean Gavina, 18, a recent graduate of Larkin High School in Elgin, credits an Elgin Area School District U-46's program for preparing her for the rigor of college-level courses and taking the Advanced Placement biology test this year. She will be the first person in her family to go to college this fall at Aurora University. Rick West | Staff Photographer

Four years ago, Jaylean Gavina didn't expect to attend college.

After all, only one of her parents even finished high school.

Gavina, 18, a recent graduate of Larkin High School in Elgin, will be pursuing a nursing degree this fall at Aurora University.

She credits her success to an Elgin Area School District U-46 program designed to prepare academically and economically disadvantaged students for college by training them to take Advanced Placement courses and the ACT college entrance exam.

"It's a really helpful tool," Gavina said. "I would have never thought in my life that I would be taking an AP class."

More Latino students statewide are taking -- and getting high scores -- on AP courses, thanks to programs like Advancement Via Individual Determination, known as AVID, used by school districts nationwide, and other interventions.

In fact, Illinois is leading the nation in bridging the equity gap for Latino students taking AP tests with each graduating class, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

Latino students made up 18 percent of Illinois' Class of 2014, but they represented slightly more than 20 percent of graduates who took at least one AP exam during high school. The number of Latino graduates taking AP tests has more than quadrupled in the past decade -- 9,287 in 2014 compared to 2,160 in 2004.

Scores showed significant growth, too. More than 17 percent of Latino students taking AP tests last year earned a 3 or higher, compared to about 8 percent in 2004. The "3" is on a 1-5 scale and the recommended minimum score for earning college credit, ISBE reports.

The numbers for 2015 aren't in yet, but the trend is steadily increasing, educators say.

"Latino and other minority students traditionally are underrepresented in these rigorous courses, as well as among the portion of AP test takers who post successful scores," State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith said. "Illinois continues to put more minority and low-income students in AP classrooms, where they gain the knowledge, skills and resources to thrive and prepare for postsecondary life."

AVID learners

Nearly 50 percent of the more than 40,000 students in U-46, the state's second-largest school district, are Hispanic. Latino students comprise nearly 70 percent of student enrollment at Elgin High, 62 percent at Larkin, 51 percent at Streamwood, 29 percent at Bartlett and 26 percent at South Elgin.

U-46's AVID program, offered in middle school through 12th grade, allows students to enroll in an elective class emphasizing writing, using the inquiry method, collaboration and reading. From note-taking to understanding how exam questions are framed, AVID gives students the tools necessary to take tests and perform well on them. Students study independently and in groups to develop networking skills.

"We recruit, hire and train college students to come into the AVID classroom and help students understand the concepts," said Ronald Raglin, U-46 assistant superintendent for secondary schools, instruction and equity.

Raglin said the goal is to have each student take at least one AP course before graduating. To that end, the district covers the cost of AP tests -- $85 each -- for students who can't afford it.

"Cost is a barrier for some, so we've got the supports," Raglin said. "We subsidize tests for all students. We really relentlessly try to cobble together funding resources. We are really trying to encourage and push students to take the AP exam."

In the 2013-14 school year, 701 Latino students enrolled in AP courses. Of those, 372 students, or 53 percent, took AP tests, and nearly half those students scored a 3 or higher, Raglin said.

"That becomes a savings for the student and the family," Raglin said. "They don't have to take certain courses in college. For those who take a lot more AP courses, some students may come in with sophomore standing in college."

Each year, the state allocates funds earmarked for helping low-income students take AP exams.

"We hope it gets reallocated for next year," Raglin said. "When students have that opportunity, and they have the supports, they rise to the challenge. They really are able to thrive. That's how we create that (college) pipeline. The whole goal of AVID is for students themselves to take leadership in the education process, have the highest expectations."

Success stories like Gavina's are shining examples for the district. She started AVID in seventh grade at Kimball Middle School in Elgin, taking honors classes and working her way up to AP Spanish during her sophomore year, scoring a 3 on that test. Gavina took an honors certified nursing assistant course her junior year, and finally the AP biology test this year on which she hopes to score a 3 or higher.

"They helped us with a lot of essay writing, which really benefited me," Gavina said. "AVID just helps bring your confidence up and see potential in yourself that you didn't know you (had)."

Gavina now has a summer job working at the River View Rehabilitation Center in Elgin.

"I see myself working in a nursing home someday," she said.

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