Chelsea earns national award for high school AP program

The Chelsea school system has earned national recognition for its efforts to promote college readiness and achievement among underserved student populations.

The district has been selected by the College Board to receive its Advanced Placement Equity and Excellence District of the Year  award for small school districts. The award recognizes Chelsea schools’ success in simultaneously expanding access to Advanced Placement courses and improving AP exam performance.

This is the third year the College Board has presented its AP award to one school district from across the country and Canada in each of three size categories: small, medium, and large. Chelsea is the first district in New England to win the award.

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College Board officials were scheduled to formally present the award to the district in a ceremony at the high school on Thursday morning.

“We are bursting at the seams with pride,” said School Superintendent Mary M. Bourque. “It validates all the hard work of our students, teachers, and administrators, and it validates our belief that our students can compete at the national level.”

Chelsea was among 539 school districts in 44 states and six Canadian provinces that the College Board placed on its AP District Honor Roll in November for increasing student access to AP course work while also raising the percentage of students earning scores of 3 or higher on AP exams.

From that list, Chelsea and the two other districts were selected for the annual awards based on an analysis of three academic years’ of AP data.

The board said Chelsea from 2009-2010 to 2011-2012 increased student participation in AP exams by 20 percent annually. It also increased — by 6 percent annually — the percentage of AP students earning a 3 or above on at least one AP exam other than Spanish, with 36 percent of its AP students scoring 3 or above in 2012.

It also increased the percentage of traditionally underserved minority AP students earning a 3 or above on at least one AP exam other than AP Spanish by 16 percent annually.

English is not the first language for 81.9 percent of Chelsea students, and enrollment is 81.3 percent Latino, according to the state Department of Education. In addition, 78.1 percent is considered low income.

“As we continue our efforts to expand access to rigorous college-level course work for all students, districts like Chelsea have created a model of success that can be replicated all across the country,” David Coleman, president of the College Board, said in a statement.

Bourque said Chelsea began to aggressively expand its AP program in 2008-2009 while trying to improve student achievement at the high school. Since then, the number of AP courses offered has increased from less than five to 13, and the district has introduced pre-AP courses at the middle school level.

The program benefits all Chelsea’s high school students, Bourque said, since “the same expectations for rigor and high standards influence all classes.”