Accelerated academics: School district praises policy impact

The initial results of participation rates and test success for Federal Way Public Schools’ accelerated academics program are in.

With the policy, students who achieve a certain mark on standardized state testing are placed into either Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) or Cambridge classes.

During the Aug. 24 school board meeting, Dr. Josh Garcia, assistant superintendent of teaching for learning, showed the impact that the oft-discussed policy had in 2010-11.

“Students strongly benefit from taking advanced classes,” he said. “They are better prepared for college coursework, they earn better grades. (They) are more likely to graduate than students with similar SAT scores that do not take advanced classes. Better colleges are more likely to admit students that have taken advanced courses, and more likely to offer them scholarships. We made a commitment to making sure we provide a world class education.”

One of the arguments the district has consistently made in defending accelerated academics is the small group of students that took advantage of advanced classes, and the under-representation of students of color. Garcia had numbers to show that the program is a more inclusive policy.

“In 2010, 37 percent of our 11th- and 12th-graders were enrolled in an advanced class. You see the dramatic increase in enrollment, with 72 percent of our 11th-graders and 63 percent of our 12th-graders.”

Garcia described the way that success was being measured for students in these classes: “We consider it a passing grade if they’re able to earn college credit.”

Garcia noted that the AP programs at Decatur and Federal Way high schools saw a slight decrease in passing exams, with Decatur going from 30 percent to 29.57 percent, and FWHS going from 15.36 percent to 11.62 percent. For FWHS, the one area of improvement for exam passing rates was in that school’s Cambridge program, with the passing rate increasing from 55 percent to 57.58 percent.

At Thomas Jefferson High School (TJ), participation was down, but success on exams was up.

“At TJ High School, the AP program saw a decrease in participation, but an increase in kids passing the test, as well as the IB program,” Garcia said.

For TJ, the percentage of students passing the AP exam increased from 48.37 percent to 50.85 percent. On the IB exam, TJ students made a significant jump, increasing their passing rate from 62.08 percent to 71.93 percent.

TJ has been experiencing a downward trend in overall enrollment, Garcia said. Part of the IB students will take their tests this year because of the two-year nature of the IB program.

From a big picture perspective, Garcia said the district saw increases in participation and success rates across the board.

“Overall, we saw a district AP enrollment increase and a passing grade increase. Overall, we saw an increase in all of our advanced programs, an increase in the number of tests that were taken, and passing grades. More kids who were enrolled in the classes took the test, and more kids that took the test passed the test.”

For more information on the academics policy, visit


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