KANKAKEE — More students are taking Advanced Placement tests at Kankakee and Bradley-Bourbonnais Community high schools, a trend school officials are encouraging.
If they pass, students can earn college credit for their AP classes, saving them money if they go to college.
In 2018, 183 Bradley-Bourbonnais students, or 9 percent of the school’s enrollment, took at least one AP exam at Bradley-Bourbonnais, according to figures from the Illinois State Board of Education. Such statistics exclude freshmen.
Two-thirds of the Bradley-Bourbonnais students, or 121, got high enough scores to gain college credit. That works out to 6 percent of the school’s enrollment.
At Kankakee High School, 141 students, or 11 percent of the student body, took at least one AP exam in 2018, the state’s numbers show.
About half of Kankakee High’s test-takers cleared the hurdle for college credit, which works out to 5 percent of the student body.
The percentages of students graduating with college credit is roughly similar at the two schools, even though the schools’ demographics are different. Kankakee’s student body is 58 percent low-income and 80 percent nonwhite, and Bradley-Bourbonnais is 43 percent low-income and 30 percent nonwhite.
The AP numbers at both schools are improving, according to their reports. This year, 194 students, including freshmen, took at least one AP exam at Kankakee High, a 21 percent increase from 2018. Bradley-Bourbonnais reports 300 students signed up to take AP tests, up 52 percent.
In the last year, the Kankakee School District received a $50,000 grant to help increase the number of students taking AP exams. It was one of just nine districts statewide to receive the money.
“We’d love to have the opportunity again next year to get the funding,” said Jenny Way, the district’s director of school improvement.
According to the Kankakee district’s numbers, the number of minorities taking AP exams rose in the last year. In 2019, 59 African Americans and 72 Hispanics took the tests, up from 50 and 54, respectively, the previous year.
Bradley-Bourbonnais is focusing its effort to encourage AP tests for typically underrepresented groups such as students of color, said Tiffany Kohl, the district’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment.
“We have marked growth in low-income students and students of color,” Kohl said.
In 2018, only three low-income African American students took AP exams, she said.
That type of number, she said, is feeding the achievement gap.
“Through our efforts, we went from three to 26 in one year,” she said.
It’s the school’s job to inform students about the advantages of taking AP tests, Kohl said.
“I’m in my 40s. If the parents are my age, they may not know about the opportunities available,” she said. “If you get a three, four or five on the test, you can get college credit at state universities. That’s money in your pocket. Even if students don’t pass, they experience the rigor of AP. It helps students find academic identity. When my daughter took AP, she was challenged as she wasn’t before.”
For some reason, Kohl said, AP has an “elitist” image, but the program is actually designed to help those who are financially struggling.
Bradley-Bourbonnais Superintendent Scott Wakeley said the district’s goal is to increase access and equity to things such as AP.
“AP is not for the elite; it’s for the prepared,” he said.