Marshall County AP Students Getting a Jump Start on College

Photo by Alan Olson Jonna Kuskey’s Advanced Placement research class meets Wednesday morning at John Marshall High School. Students enrolled in AP classes at John Marshall scored above the global average and 20 points higher than the state average on tests during the 2017-18 school year.

GLEN DALE — John Marshall High School’s Advanced Placement students scored above the state and global average for their tests during last school year.

In the spring, 128 John Marshall AP students took the tests, and 67 percent of them scored a 3+ on the exams. That beat the international average of students who score a 3 or higher by six points and the state average by 20 points.

Assistant Principal Katie Dantrassy said the added weight of specialized courses worldwide make beating the global average no small accomplishment.

“It’s a big deal, because usually the global will stump you every time, because you have magnet schools and different things that can go into having a higher score,” Dantrassy said.

She said recent financial support from the Karl and Mildred Niekamp Charitable Foundation — which allow students to take the AP tests at an earlier grade level — combined with teachers being trained to begin AP classes during freshman year has led to an earlier start and a solid basis in AP testing.

“We’ve broadened our programs,” Dantrassy said. “We now have AP human geography in our freshman year, and AP statistics. By broadening our programs, it gives our students opportunities to take the test, and through generous funders, who have provided children with stipends to take the tests. … Being able to take tests at an earlier grade has helped with the number of AP scholars we’ve had.”

Principal Cassandra Porter said each test is administered at a cost of $100. Because of that, financial contributions from donors helps immensely when a student takes several AP exams. The savings is then passed on when a student who successfully passes those exams does not need to take those courses in college.

“We try to offer courses that our students will be interested in, be meaningful to them, and help them grow and use these skills in college. Even if the tests are expensive, they’re cheaper than having to take this course in college,” Porter said.

John Marshall had one student in the past year who qualified as a National AP Scholar. That student, who did not wish to be identified, scored an average of 4 or higher on all AP exams, and 4 or higher on eight or more of those exams. The student took 11 exams throughout their high school career.

If all of those exams convert to earned college credits, a student would have a solid start on his or her college years, Dantrassy said.

“AP is a gold standard,” she said. “If you’re doing well in AP, you’re doing well.”

AP human geography teacher Kallie Kastrevec said her students were self-motivated, which allowed them to find their own success once instructed on better study habits.

“I showed up on test day with pom-poms and treat bags,” she said jokingly. “I require flash cards, and at the beginning I sit down and show them how to use them – check five at a time, have an ‘I know this’ pile and an ‘I don’t know this’ pile. … They’re always paired up, and they have a base group, where every Friday, they review information from the week.”

AP chemistry teacher Tammy DeWitt, whose students in 2017 all passed their AP tests, said the testing in the spring was a great success. That was despite disruptions not just from the weather, but also from the teacher’s strike. Neither of those appeared to affect her students, she said.

“My students had a lot of optional study sessions, even during the strike,” DeWitt said. “After school hours and on weekends, my students made a valiant effort to attend. I encouraged them to have one or more study partners. If they’re absent from class, it’s their responsibility to send a picture of their notes to their partner, so even if you’re absent, you can fill in, and ask questions when they come back.

“It’s not just a temporary skill,” she said. “I tell them all the time, ‘I’m proud of you when you pass the tests, but my goal is to make you an independent learner.'”

The teachers said the school district’s support of its teachers has been instrumental to their success. In a change from previous years, teachers were compensated for 20 hours of extracurricular study time with students, which in prior years was done on their own time.

“I appreciate that Marshall County supports our study sessions,” DeWitt said. “It’s not that we wouldn’t do it anyway, but it’s nice to have remuneration.”