Toppenish High School is ahead of the curve

College & Career Readiness, High School Success | 06/21/2019

Katie Gustainis
Marketing & Communications Director, Stand for Children Washington

Last month, Washington became the first state in the country to require that every student ready for advanced classes be given the opportunity to take them. It’s a policy called Academic Acceleration and was pioneered by the Federal Way school district in 2011. Its goal is to reduce historic and systemic barriers to advanced coursework for students from low-income families and historically underserved students of color, and it’s working. 

Although the policy will be new to most school districts, at least 50 districts in Washington are ahead of the game and have already implemented Academic Acceleration. In the Yakima Valley, several early adopter districts have already seen positive results for their students. In the wake of the policy being signed into law, Yakima Herald-Republic reporter Janelle Retka talked with Toppenish High School students Michelle and Lupe (you can read Janelle’s full article here).

“Even though it’s challenging, later on it will benefit you. In college, you won’t have to take a class because you already took it here,” said Michelle. Lupe highlighted the monetary benefits,  “Financially, it helps a lot because we don’t have to pay all of it. The school helps you and overall the taxpayers are helping.”

Toppenish High School participated in the Academic Acceleration grant incentive program that was launched in 2013. After launch, they were able to triple the number of students enrolled in advanced classes over the next four years from 10.4% to 29.8%, according to data from OSPI. In 2016-17, the number of Hispanic/Latino students and low-income students actually exceeded the district average, with 44.2% and 40.2% enrolled, respectively.

In order to ensure that the cost of dual-credit courses isn’t a barrier for students who are qualified, the Washington State Legislature has set aside $9.8 million for dual credit programs, which includes subsidized Advanced Placement exam fees, International Baccalaureate class fees, and exam fees for low-income students.

In the Yakima Herald-Republic article, Toppenish Superintendent John Cerna highlighted the program’s benefits, “It really provides incentive for our kids that otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford some of these courses,” he said. According to OSPI, 84% of Toppenish High School students are from low income families. “This has impacted kids going onto college, too, because of the college credits they’re getting in high school,” he added.

Nearby Yakima School District has not yet adopted the policy in full, but according to Sean McGeeney, the executive director of preschool through 12th grade programs for the Yakima School District, “a similar program of assessing all students entering seventh grade to see if they qualify for highly capable learning — rather than relying on referrals alone — has improved equity in that program.”

He continued, “What gets me excited about [the Academic Acceleration] component of (House Bill) 1599 is the fact that it really opens up the issue of equity and access to all students. Hopefully we’ll be able to identify all kids who should be in honors, AP and IB here in Yakima. We have all of those avenues of learning for those kids, so it will better serve all of the kids.”

The remaining 200 school districts who have not yet implemented Academic Acceleration will now have the next three school years to do so, with the support of OSPI. At Stand, we’ll continue to highlight the progress of this policy’s implementation, the successes we’re seeing, the inevitable opportunities for growth, and how it’s ultimately impacting students across Washington.

Read the full Yakima Herald-Republic article by Janelle Retka here.

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