Calvert and Patuxent high schools participated in a yearlong review to help close the achievement gap in Advanced Placement courses, resulting in an additional 105 students of color and low-income students enrolling in AP courses for the coming school year.

At Thursday’s Calvert County Board of Education meeting, Director of Secondary School Improvement Susan Johnson, along with Steven Lucas, principal of Calvert High School, presented an end-of-year report that compared the 2017-18 AP enrollment to the 2018-19 AP course request for 11th- and 12th-grade students of Calvert and Patuxent high schools.

The report was to analyze the number of underrepresented groups — students of color and low-income students — in comparison to their white and Asian peers in AP classes.

According to the report, 691 students submitted course request forms for AP courses in the coming school year, 269 of which are students from underrepresented groups.

Moreover, the report states at both Calvert and Patuxent for the upcoming school year, underrepresented students are 86 percent as likely to participate in AP courses when compared to their medium- to high-income white and Asian counterparts.

The percentage of underrepresented students likely to participate in AP courses is up from 2017-18 numbers. At Calvert, 63 percent were likely to participate, and at Patuxent, 71 percent were likely to participate.

While the number of underrepresented students in AP courses is increasing, Johnson said the gap has narrowed, not closed, because the number of students altogether is increasing.

In addition, over 95 percent of students and staff at the participating schools took surveys at the beginning of the year, which indicated some of the barriers that kept underrepresented students from taking AP courses.

Barriers “that kept underrepresented students from considering AP were knowing the benefits, general knowledge of AP, how to access AP and belonging,” Johnson wrote in an email to The Calvert Recorder.

Johnson told board members that Calvert County Public Schools has been working for the past 10 years to increase the number of students of color and of lower socio-economic status enrolled in AP courses. This year, however, with the help of Equal Opportunity Schools, the school system took a different approach to increasing those numbers.

Equal Opportunity Schools partners with schools across the U.S. to ensure all students have equal access to academically advanced high school courses, and to create an environment where underrepresented students can succeed at the highest level.

In an email to the Recorder, Johnson said school officials focused on students’ “growth mindset, grit, community leadership, academic self, academic strategies, purpose of learning and focus,” for this year’s approach.

She also wrote that they do use students’ grade point average and achievement scores on national tests — such as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and PSAT — but those scores “don’t make up the entire picture of a student.”

“We looked at students from a different lens, more of a realistic lens. The quantitative factors, but also a lot of qualitative factors,” Lucas told board members Thursday. He added that this helped kids who “typically flew under the radar” stand out.

Each school created a team that meets monthly to develop a plan for outreach and to eliminate the barriers of AP courses for students. These plans have included “AP for a day,” where an underrepresented student followed an AP student for the day; parent night, where parents were invited to learn more about the challenges and benefits of AP; connecting the students with trusted adults; and summer camps to help students navigate AP course load, advocate for themselves and work with others to be successful.

Student board member Thomas Ridenour, a junior at Northern High School, recalled his experience of taking AP World History his freshman year, and he said preparing students for AP courses over the summer is “a really good idea,” and the review sessions were “helpful.”

Patuxent and Calvert are continuing to participate in the survey for the upcoming school year, and staff are also working on how to keep the students motivated in AP during the school year.

Johnson said the review cost $54,000 plus expenses, but the school system received $10,000 per school from the Maryland State Department of Education.

In other business, board members passed a motion for Superintendent of Schools Dan Curry to review school enrollment for all Calvert County Public Schools.

“We have despaired enrollment in our schools. We have some schools that are really crowded and some schools with lots of capacity,” board president Tracy McGuire, who brought forth the motion, said.

McGuire wants the review to focus on how a high or low school enrollment affects student experience in the schools, if enrollment rate limits what a principal can do and if departments identify areas of concern for providing services and support for high- or low-enrollment schools.