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Tosa students outperform state average in first year of District's required Advanced Placement course for sophomores

August 2, 2019


For the first time in Wisconsin, an entire sophomore class took a college-level Advanced Placement (AP) Human Geography course during the 2018-2019 school year, not because they chose the challenge, but because the Wauwatosa School District believes each of them could rise to a higher rigor.


And, recently released results of the AP test scores for 2019 show Wauwatosa students did just that.


Seventy percent of Wauwatosa students who chose to take the elective AP test in May - nearly half of the class - scored a 3 or higher out of a highest possible score of 5. A score of “three” is the threshold for receiving college credit for the course.


That statistic alone is impressive for a first-year course with students that didn’t self-select to take a college-level course, but the data also showed Wauwatosa students scored higher than the state and the global average of students who took the AP Human Geography test and who chose to take the class.


“I feel very proud of the results that our district has,” said David Dentinger, supervisor of secondary education, during a

report to the Wauwatosa School Board.  


The District is one of two in the country that has a mandatory, all-inclusive AP Human Geography course for high school sophomores.  AP courses allow students to get dual credit for high school and college – if they take the AP test for the course in May and get a high enough score.


The Wauwatosa School District made the decision in 2017 to replace the sophomore Global Studies course with AP Human Geography in the 2018-2019 school year as part of its equity initiatives to increase access to AP courses for students who have been traditionally underrepresented in advanced courses.


“Sixty-one percent of students got an A or B this year, compared to 68% in Global Studies last year. For them to maintain the numbers in the proximity they have, really is a testament to them rising to the occasion,” Dentinger told school board members.


Research shows that students who take even one AP course in high school will be better equipped to perform successfully in college than if they didn’t take AP courses. Even if a student doesn’t think college is part of their post-secondary path, the more rigorous course rewards students with more variety in its lessons.


AP Human Geography leans on visual, spatial learning and intelligence, while also including traditional reading and writing. This can appeal to many students who often get left out with a focus primarily on reading and auditory learning.


Teachers of the course say it has brought cohesiveness and consistency to classrooms across the district, benefiting staff, and students.


“AP Human has given a framework. We now have a common and shared curriculum. We are constantly interacting and collaborating. That’s been the biggest shift and most positive change,” said Tim Arndorfer, a social studies teacher at East High School who taught the Global Studies course for 17 years.


As part of the course implementation, the District staff participated in three days of training and an additional Universal Design for Learning/Inclusion training. Special Education teachers use a Universal Design for Learning co-plan/co-serve model to support all students in the class. And, teachers are provided common planning time to work on the course together through the week to better serve students.


The efforts caught the attention of the College Board, which invited the District’s Department of Teaching and Learning to present at its annual AP Conference in Orlando, Florida in July.  


Teachers Ana Baker, Padi Kong, Tyler Bostedt and Jordan Stein discussed the strategies and methods the District used to implement an all-inclusive AP class, as well as the professional development and planning, and supports the District provided staff to ensure success for teachers and students. The goal of the presentation was to help other teachers and districts increase the number of students who can take and be successful in an AP course.


While test scores are one indication of success, teacher Tim Arndorfer will tell you success is more than just a number.   


“I hope kids are getting a better understanding of the world around them, how we have impacted it and how it is impacting us. Everyone wants to know the test results. I think there’s a bigger picture in reality, in getting kids interested in human geography.”