The Ottumwa Courier

October 2, 2012

Students getting a head start

More high school students taking tougher college-credit classes

Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Iowa’s high school kids are volunteering for the toughest classes in return for college credit.

“The Advanced Placement government course we [recently] added is very rigorous, with an extreme amount of reading they’re required to do,” said the Fairfield school superintendent, Art Sathoff.

Students need to understand and remember all that information, too, since they’re required to pass a tough exam in order to get the college credit for the class.

 Davis Eidahl, superintendent of Ottumwa schools, said there are a few differences between AP classes and concurrent enrollment classes.

“Advanced Placement, that’s something they can take that is recognized across the nation,” said Eidahl. “Those AP courses are basically recognized by all universities.”

As competition to get into four-year schools is getting more difficult, he said, having a few AP classes on a transcript can help beef it up. But, Sathoff stressed, colleges are becoming even more attentive to how the courses are taught.  

“They are making sure that the teachers are well-qualified and the syllabus is what it should be — we want that, too.”

According to a report last week from the Iowa Department of Education, the number of AP exams taken in Iowa increased in the last year by 11 percent compared to 7 percent nationally.

Of the 15,000 kids taking the tests, 10,000 were seniors.

“Last year, we had 49 percent of Ottumwa graduates with college credit,” said Eidahl.

And kids with college credit are more likely to stay in school through high school graduation.  

“If they have a few credits under their belt, chances improve that they’ll go into some type of program past high school, which is what we want,” Eidahl said.

AP isn’t the only way to get high school and college credit at the same time.

At Ottumwa High School, Principal Mark Hanson said concurrent classes are taught at Indian Hills Community College or at the high school by Hills-certified teachers.

Some of the decision of which road to take can be based on what classes are being offered in each format.

At Fairfield High School, AP calculus, AP government and AP literature are available “in-house,” plus students can take AP chemistry on the Internet.

However, said Hanson, “A lot of [OHS] kids opt to take the concurrent enrollment. We’re always excited when we can work with a [college like] Indian Hills.”

Eidahl said Ottumwa schools have a very good relationship with IHCC, which is a “great advantage for our students.”

The parents Sathoff meets tell him they like both programs, which allow their students to get some college credit without the high cost of college.

Sathoff, who went through high school in the 1980s, said it was very rare to see a high school student taking a college class.

But whether they are going to a two- or four-year school, an apprenticeship or the military, Eidahl said, Iowa students benefit from taking tough course work.

 “This gets them one step into [further education] and gives them confidence that yes, they can do this level of work. When we can break down that barrier, it opens a door.”