Montgomery County public schools this year passed a milestone in college preparation: Half of the 9,737 black high school students are enrolled in honors or Advanced Placement courses.
Five years ago, barely one-third of African Americans participated in such classes, despite the county’s reputation as a national leader in college prep. Now, a black student in Montgomery is more likely to take an AP test than a white student elsewhere in the nation.
Kalema took all the honors courses available to her in the ninth grade, then progressed into AP. As a senior, she is taking AP geography, calculus and English literature. She partly credits her counselor, Scott Woo, with her advancement.
“It’s always been Mr. Woo saying, ‘I think you can take this class,’ ” she said.
The county’s achievement is striking because the national surge in Advanced Placement testing has largely left black students behind.
The success of urban schoolteacher Jaime Escalante with a group of minority AP students in East Los Angeles in the 1980s convinced public educators that motivation and hard work might be just as important as standardized test scores in predicting AP success. Over the past few years, that philosophy has become pervasive in the Washington region.
Principals and teachers in Montgomery high schools began looking for reasons to include students in AP courses, rather than reasons to keep them out. The process evolved into a science: All students now take the PSAT, or Preliminary SAT, a strong predictor of AP potential, in the ninth grade. Principals get spreadsheets that allow them to sort students by PSAT score and grade-point average to identify those capable of AP study not enrolled in an AP course.
Kalema was being groomed for AP while still in middle school. She took Algebra I, a high school course, in the eighth grade; the school system has dramatically expanded advanced math study in elementary and middle schools as a pipeline to future AP and IB study.