PARKERSBURG - Wood County Schools has seen a gradual increase in students taking Advanced Placement classes over the last several years due in part to weighted grades.
According to a quarterly snapshot of school district statistics, 1,373 of the district's more than 13,000 students took Advanced Placement classes last year, with many taking more than one course during a semester or school year. The number is up slightly from 1,238 in 2007-08 and 1,126 in 2006-07.
A state report shows 26.7 percent of Wood County 12th graders took AP courses in 2007-08, up from 23.8 percent in 2006-07, according to the snapshot.
Wood County Schools, like school systems throughout the state, encourages students to take the highly rigorous courses in part through the use of weighted grades.
"We began offering weighted grades several years ago in response to some concerns over AP classes," said Superintendent Bill Niday said.
Those concerns centered on whether students taking more stringent courses should have their grades reflect the difficulty of the course.
"A lot of it had to do with the Promise Scholarship," Niday said. "If you had a student get a B in an AP class (with a regular grading scale), that could hurt their chance of getting the scholarship. There was no incentive for students to take these more rigorous classes."
Frieda Owen, assistant superintendent of curriculum, said weighted grades have acted as an incentive for students to take AP classes, but there have been other reasons as well.
"It is a factor, but it is not the only factor," she said.
Owen said the district offers AP courses in math, English, science, social studies, art and foreign languages. Some courses are offered every year while others are offered when there is sufficient student interest. State code now requires at least four AP courses to be offered at each high school each year.
"We are beyond that at all three high schools," she said.
In addition, though the district has no current count on how many teachers are certified to teach advanced placement classes, more and more teachers each year receive their certification.
Owen said students also have the option of taking an exam at the end of an AP course in order to gain college credit.
"That is optional for the student, because it is an expensive exam," she said, and under most circumstances, a student takes on the cost of the AP test.
The College Board also has begun yearly audits of AP courses to ensure they are being properly administered.
"Our teachers have to prepare a comprehensive syllabus of their course to show what they are teaching and how," Owen said.
Though it has been debated in the past, the school system does not offer weighted grades for honors classes. Niday said those classes are much different than the AP courses.
"With AP courses there is a specific curriculum and measure. You know they are more challenging classes," he said. "There is no different curriculum for honors courses. Honors courses use the same content standards from the state as other classes. You may just be going more in-depth with the material or at a faster pace."
Niday said the AP classes remain vital to Wood County Schools because they demand a higher level of effort from students.
"We believe the students need to be taking as challenging of courses as possible," he said. "We are going to continue to encourage them to do just that."