Testing Results Confirm Academic Acceleration Policy’s Positive Impact on Student Achievement

A year after the implementation of Federal Way Public Schools’ (FWPS) Academic Acceleration policy, four trends stand out:

Last fall, Federal Way Public Schools initiated this highly unusual policy, which requires qualified students to be automatically enrolled in advanced classes. Now, following the first year of the policy’s implementation, the exam results confirm that the policy has had a positive effect on both student participation and success in advanced classes.

In addition, the exam passage rates confirm that the class grades being given to students are valid, says Assistant Superintendent of Teaching for Learning Josh Garcia. In fact, the correlation rate between class grades and advanced program exam results increased substantially, from .3 in 2010 to 4 in 2011.

Students stepped up to the challenges of more rigorous classes
Enrollment in advanced courses at high schools across the district increased markedly following the implementation of the policy. During the 2009-2010 school year, 37.66% of the district’s 11th and 12th grade students were enrolled in the district’s advanced academics classes, which include Cambridge Preparatory Academy courses at Federal Way High School, International Baccalaureate courses at Thomas Jefferson High School and Advanced Placement courses at all of the district’s comprehensive high schools.

By the second semester of the 2010-2011 school year -- despite a provision that would allow students to opt-out of advanced classes with parent permission -- participation had increased dramatically. Seventy-two percent of the district’s 11th graders and 63 percent of its 12th grade students took at least one advanced course in the second semester.

With the increase in students taking advanced classes, it would not have been surprising if the passage rate on the AP exams had decreased from the previous year. Yet, the district’s advanced course exam passage rate went up slightly from 40% to 41%.

At one of the district’s schools, Todd Beamer High School, second-semester participation in advanced courses was close to 90%. Still, the passage rate on the AP exams increased from 28% in the first semester to nearly 35% in the second.  At Federal Way High School, the Cambridge Diploma Exam passage rates increased, as did passage rates for Thomas Jefferson’s AP and IB exams.  At Decatur, which had a significant increase in tests taken, a very slight dip occurred in the passage rate– from 30% to 29.5%.   

Educators have long suspected that many students capable of succeeding in more rigorous classes simply don’t choose to take those classes. Staff conversations with those students revealed a variety of reasons, but chief among them was a perception by the students themselves that they didn’t belong in advanced classes.

The FWPS Board of Directors made the decision in the spring of 2010 to switch up the paradigm for these students. They now are automatically enrolled if they meet standard on a related section of the state’s standardized tests, the High School Proficiency Exam (HSPE) or the Measurements of Student Progress (MSP) for middle school students.

Those same students who previously would not have chosen to enroll now are finding that they can be successful in advanced classes. After last year’s first semester grades were tallied up, the district found that not only had participation in advanced classes increased, the vast majority of students enrolled in those classes as a result of Academic Acceleration policy were passing.

First-year results have confirmed that Federal Way Public Schools’ Academic Acceleration policy has increased all students’ access to advanced courses and that those students are bucking the stereotypes – by showing they are willing and capable of success in these highly rigorous courses.

The district plans to increase course offerings for students, teacher training and support, and better communication with families, with the goal of even better results next year.

Posted: August 24, 2011