Are high schools preparing kids for college?

More rigorous courses, but not enough

Advanced Placement (AP) classes are a leg-up in becoming ready for college. Over the past 10 years, the number of AP exams taken by CPS high school students seeking college credit has nearly quadrupled.

Pass rates are down, however, as more students with average academic records enroll in AP classes. Last year, 42 percent of the AP exams taken earned a score of 3 or higher—the target to earn college credit—compared to 50 percent in 1995.

The district also boasts an expanding International Baccalaureate (IB) program, with 14 high schools participating and 2,340 students enrolled in the diploma program. In 1995, only one high school, Lincoln Park High, offered the prestigious college prep curriculum. Today, Lincoln Park is among the top 100 high schools—in the world—ranked by the number of IB test-takers.

Last year, about 43 percent of IB candidates in CPS earned diplomas; worldwide the rate is 78 percent.

Yet progress remains limited, as only 6 percent of approximately 100,000 high school students were enrolled in AP courses last year.

Graduation rate up, race gap persists

All signals are up in high schools. Fueled, in part, by higher test scores of incoming freshmen, the graduation rate is up, and the dropout rate is down. This is especially noteworthy because students are carrying heavier course loads.

A key factor in both advances is the increasing percentage of freshmen earning sufficient credits to put them on track to graduate on time. For example, 81 percent of freshmen who were “on track” in 1999 graduated four years later, compared to only 20 percent who were “off track.”

The bad news is that calculations by the Consortium on Chicago School Research show a much lower graduation rate than do the official state numbers, which fail to account accurately for student mobility and students who take an extra year to graduate.

Black male dropout rate is highest

Despite improving numbers, serious racial gaps persist. African-American and Latino students are much less likely than white and Asian students to be “on track” and graduate. Forty-six percent of African-American students who entered high school in 2001 had dropped out by 2005. The percentage is even higher for black males: 55 percent.

Note: Graduation and dropout rates are for the freshman classes of 1992-93 and 2001-02.

Source: Consortium on Chicago School Research

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