Olympic Heights test scores on the rise across the board, surpassing state and district averages

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Olympic Heights test scores on the rise across the board, surpassing state and district averages

AP World History teacher Ms. Chelsea Baer saw a 16 percent improvement in her test scores from 2018 to 2019.

AP World History teacher Ms. Chelsea Baer saw a 16 percent improvement in her test scores from 2018 to 2019.

AP World History teacher Ms. Chelsea Baer saw a 16 percent improvement in her test scores from 2018 to 2019.

AP World History teacher Ms. Chelsea Baer saw a 16 percent improvement in her test scores from 2018 to 2019.

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Tests, tests, tests. School nowadays appears to be overridden by them. Tests dictate if we can move on to the next grade level. Tests dictate what colleges we can get accepted into. And finally, tests help dictate what we are good at. All this being said, it isn’t easy spending numerous hours with a head in a textbook, cramming for AP and AICE exams, EOCs (End Of Course Exams), and SATs. In fact, it’s quite challenging given the amount of pressure high school teenagers face today. Nonetheless, many students succeed at what they do, with guidance from their knowledgeable teachers and plenty of practice and studying. This is increasingly becoming the norm at Olympic Heights High School as well. 

The first notable increase was evident in the United States History EOC scores. Passing this EOC, which is generally taken during junior year, is a necessary graduation requirement. With an 85 percent pass rate (up six percent from 2018), OH ranked first in the South Region of the Palm Beach School District (which includes schools such as Spanish River and West Boca). The Biology EOC pass rate saw a four percent gain, reaching 77 percent. ELA (English Language Arts)  FSAs, which are taken by freshmen and sophomores, remained constant at just under a 70 percent pass rate. 

OH’s weakest area remains in the math department. The Algebra I EOC saw a meager 58 percent of students passing. Geometry was at a 64 percent. How can this be? According to OH principal Ms. Kelly Burke, “When I first got here, everybody in ninth grade who hadn’t taken Algebra was put into Algebra I. If you failed Algebra I, you went into Geometry. We’re not doing that anymore because we feel that we’re setting kids up for failure.” Burke has instead devised a new pathway for students to succeed in math. Students who are deemed unprepared for Algebra I will be taking a pre-Algebra class. Students must also pass the Algebra I EOC in order to move on to Geometry. Those who fail must take an online Algebra remediation class. “My expectation is that the math [EOC scores] will go up drastically next year because of the way the pathway is restructured,” Burke explains.

Meanwhile, many AP classes at OH have seen skyrocketing results. The Social Studies Department is a prime example of this trend. AP World History, AP U.S. History, and AP U.S. Government all had pass rates above both state and global averages. For instance, AP World History had a 59 percent pass rate in 2018. In 2019, it shot to 75 percent. AP World History teacher Ms. Chelsea Baer admits that since she was able to teach her course the entire year (as opposed to losing first quarter due to the intended AP World teacher abruptly leaving the prior year), it gave her students an advantage over 2018’s class. “I also had more time to spend on different topics, a better idea of the topics that College Board saw as most important, as well as the time to emphasize study skills and organizational skills within my class,” Baer divulges. 

Additionally, this past year Baer unveiled new teaching methods for her AP History students. They received two quizzes daily, one on assigned textbook readings and the other on geography or dates. Baer believes that the double quizzes helped strengthen both the students’ study skills (as for many students it was their first AP class) and their preparedness for the AP exam.

AP U.S. History observed an even more impressive increase in scores. In fact, the pass rate flipped from 58 percent in 2018 to 85 percent in 2019.  

The amount of students passing AP U.S. Government and Politics, which was 34 percent in 2018, more than doubled this past school year. As for the origin of the improvement, AP Government and Politics teacher Mr. Carlos Ramon credits being trained on the new redesign of the exam and “incorporating it into his classroom” as among the reasons for the soaring scores. 

This sentiment is strongly echoed by Burke. Burke, as well as AICE Coordinator Ms. Kelly Lawrence, stress the importance of training teachers properly and giving them the support they need. Burke explains that PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) are groups for teachers to meet and work together, which is especially useful for subject areas with standardized testing. She asserts that she has chosen leaders for the PLCs who earn small stipends to encourage full participation. Additionally, some teachers get paired up with teachers from other schools to both provide and receive extra help. For example, OH’s Mr. Thomas DiLorenzo is known for having consistently high AP Psychology scores. “He’s [DiLorenzo] one of those people that works with other schools and helps them to get better scores,” Burke shares. “More professional development and more working together collaboratively is the answer,” she insists. 

A noticeable change also occurred with the AP Calculus AB and BC scores. AB Calculus has a notoriously low pass rate at OH; in 2018 it was only at 12 percent. In 2019, this number was tripled. It was the first year of teaching at OH for Mr. Michael Drake, but it was certainly not his first time teaching the course. In fact, Drake was accustomed to receiving much higher scores at his previous school; however, for OH this is already a strong step in the right direction. Burke explains, “We like to put kids in the course and expose them to the rigor. We expect the pass rate to even double again next year now that he’s been here and knows what he can do to work with the students.” BC Calculus, which tends to have higher scores than AB since the students have more preparation and experience with the material from the prior course, quadrupled from its previous pass rate of 17 percent. 

Just as impressive as the success with AP was the success found with OH’s AICE courses. AICE is the Advanced International Certificate of Education developed by the University of Cambridge in England. Lawrence shares that the overall AICE pass rate increased, which she was very content to see considering that the AICE program was doubled in terms of exams given and students enrolled. The highest pass rate was in AICE General Paper. “For General Paper, we went from 216 kids taking it to 424 kids. This year’s pass rate remained in the 90s, and it was a totally new test and syllabus. New syllabus combined with double the kids taking it, and they’re still at such a high percent? I think that’s just amazing,” Lawrence exclaims. 

Even lackluster AICE Math scores drastically improved this past year. The pass rate doubled to an outstanding 88 percent. Lawrence admits that OH “struggled” with the course in the beginning, as schedulers and administrators originally believed the course could be a “replacement” for Pre-Calculus. In reality, students in 2018 were ill-prepared for the format and structure of the AICE Exam, as they soon discovered the wording of the test was much different than how American math is phrased. 

Aside from the core academics, OH is strong in the fine arts as well, seeing astonishing success in AP Art courses and AICE Music. AICE Music, taught by Mr. Richard Andreacchio, has had 100 percent of its students passing for the past two years. AP Studio Art: Drawing Portfolio also reached 100 percent last school year, and AP Studio Art 2D Design had a 92 percent. Both art courses, taught by Ms. Jane Tobal, were above national averages.

Advanced level foreign language courses at OH are gradually being remodeled. Typically, AP and AICE Spanish classes were dominated by native Spanish speakers. It was only last school year that OH finally broke out of this trend. Ms. Jennifer Chacon was the first to teach an AICE Spanish Language class of non-native Spanish speakers. According to Lawrence, half the students who took the AICE Spanish Language exam last year were non-native speakers, yet all but one student passed. This goes to show that anyone willing to put in the effort can excel at a foreign language, no matter their background. Chacon is also leading the movement to intermix native and non-native speakers in advanced classes, teaching her first integrated AICE Spanish class this current school year. “Absolutely, language courses are created to offer students the experience to be exposed to a multilingual academic experience, to learn about the culture and to be able to advance their language studies. Everybody should participate, regardless of their nationality,” Chacon explains.

Ms. Heather Jewett’s AICE Marine Science pass rates also illustrated significant augmentation. Her pass rate, which has normally been in the 60 percent range for the past few years, jumped to an almost 84 percent last year. As for the reason for the improvement, Jewett proclaims, “I put a lot more time last year into analyzing past Cambridge exams to see any patterns that existed in the questions.”  She goes on to explain how she made the questions the students completed in class reflect those recently discovered patterns, as well as incorporated a new Cambridge textbook into her curriculum. Jewett points out that a major change is the amount of seniors passing the exam. “Typically only half of the seniors pass. This year, I had a lot of seniors who needed to pass the AICE Marine exam to get their AICE Diploma, so they put a lot more effort into preparing for and passing the exam versus a senior who was not going to get an AICE Diploma,” Jewett states. 

The AICE Diploma, which is earned by gaining seven credits in different AICE subject categories, guarantees the top-tier Bright Futures Scholarship for recipients. Every year, OH is seeing an increasing number of students seeking this diploma. Lawrence expresses, “Last year I entered 40-something kids for an AICE diploma, and I expect that we will enter quite a few more this year. Every year we’re just adding more courses, and the success in our existing courses has grown.” For instance, AICE English Literature, which (like AICE Marine) is another senior class commonly taken to satisfy a component for the diploma, had a pass rate last year that was twice as high as the previous year. 

As college entry becomes increasingly competitive, the nation will likely see a growing trend of high school students taking advanced coursework in the hopes of attaining a GPA boost and college credit. It seems like only more college-oriented tests are yet to arrive at OH’s front door. If the current orientation continues, it is highly probable that these scores will also impress.