Monument Mountain Regional High School Principal Amy Rex in discussion with students. Monument was recently honored by the College Board with placement on its eighth annual AP District Honor Roll. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Berkshire Hills achieves AP honor roll designation from College Board

"Congratulations to all the educators and administrators in [Berkshire Hills] who have worked to clear a path for more students of all backgrounds to participate and succeed in AP." -- Trevor Packer, head of AP and Instruction at the College Board

Great Barrington — The Monument Mountain Regional High School physical plant may be in need of a complete overhaul, but the school recently got some great news in the form of recognition by a prestigious national organization.

The Berkshire Hills Regional School District is one of 447 school districts in the U.S. and Canada being honored by the College Board with placement on the eighth annual Advanced Placement (AP) District Honor Roll.

Berkshire Hills is the only district in Berkshire County to earn the distinction this year. Click here to see the 2018 AP District Honor Roll. There are 25 districts in the Bay State to make the AP honor roll this year. None are from western Massachusetts, unless you consider Ralph C. Mahar Regional High School to be. Mahar serves New Salem, Orange and Wendell in Franklin County, and Petersham in Worcester County.

Berkshire Hills Regional School District Superintendent Peter Dillon.

“We’re very proud of our learning community,” said Berkshire Hills Superintendent Peter Dillon. “Research shows that students benefit tremendously from rigorous learning opportunities. Faculty worked hard to increase access and challenge students. Students exceeded our expectations.”

Advanced Placement courses are college-level courses offered in high schools, typically in the junior or senior year, that give the student college credit in advance of actually enrolling in college. Most colleges and universities require a score of 3 or 4 out of 5 to receive college credit.

In a news release announcing the honor roll, the College Board said reaching these goals shows that districts on the honor roll “are successfully identifying motivated, academically prepared students who are ready for AP.” The College Board insists that Berkshire Hills “is committed to expanding the availability of AP courses among prepared and motivated students of all backgrounds.”

Monument Principal Amy Rex provided The Edge with a breakdown of which AP courses are taught at her school and how many students are enrolled in them in the 2017-18 academic year:

  • English Language – 41
  • English Literature -23
  • AB Calculus – 24 (with 1–2 additional potential BC testers)
  • Chemistry – 21
  • Biology – 36
  • Physics 1 – 15
  • French – 5
  • Spanish – 3 potential testers

Dillon said Monument typically offers AP Spanish as well, but this was an off-year for that subject, meaning that it might be offered next year.

In the 2016-17 academic year, Monument also accommodated testers in Psychology, Art History, Physics 2, Music Theory, Physics C Mechanics, Physics C Electricity and Magnetism, Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, Human Geography and World History.

The AP, a unit of the College Board, says national data from 2017 show that among American Indian/Alaska Native, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander students with a high degree of readiness for AP, only about half are participating.

“The first step to getting more of these students to participate is to give them access,” the AP said. “Courses must be made available, gatekeeping must stop, and doors must be equitably opened.”

“It’s a neat opportunity,” Dillon said in an Edge interview. “There is good research that says even if everybody takes only one AP class, it sets them up well because they’re doing something really rigorous … I’m most interested in having people engage in something that’s academic and invigorating.”

Dillon said the only AP option in social studies is U.S. History, taught by Holly Troiano, so it is usually quite popular with 20 or more students enrolled. Of the three AP science courses offered, AP Biology is the most popular, with 37 enrolled this year–all juniors and seniors.

An aerial view of the campus of schools comprising the Berkshire Hills Regional School District. In center is Monument Mountain Regional High School. In center left is Muddy Brook Regional Elementary School, and above Muddy Brook is Monument Valley Regional Middle School.

And historically, AP Language and AP Biology have had the highest number of test takers over the past three years. Literature, Chemistry and Calculus follow closely behind.

Like most other school districts in the county, Berkshire Hills is seeing its enrollments shrink significantly. There are currently about 525 students at Monument in grades nine through 12. As recently as 1999, there were more than 700. A recent study by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission put the enrollment of the entire Berkshire Hills district at 1,612 in 2000 and predicted it will fall to 1,219 in 2025.

Asked whether the trend could put the number of AP offerings at risk, Dillon was circumspect.

“It’s always a work in progress,” Dillon replied, adding that AP enrollment has actually grown over the past few years.

Indeed, to be included on the honor roll, Berkshire Hills had to increase the number of students participating in AP since 2015 while also increasing or maintaining the percentage of students earning AP Exam scores of 3 or higher.

The College Board also notes that helping more students learn at a higher level and earn higher AP scores is an objective of all members of the AP community, from AP teachers to district and school administrators to college professors. Many districts are experimenting with initiatives and strategies to see how they can expand access and improve student performance at the same time.

But Dillon was also quick to caution against over-reliance on testing.

“We’re not just graduating kids who are good at taking tests,” Dillon explained. “As important as AP is, an independent study or robust internship, and a portfolio to demonstrate learning and understanding, are also important.”

In 2017, more than 4,000 colleges and universities around the world received AP scores for college credit, advanced placement or both, and/or consideration in the admissions process. Inclusion in the AP District Honor Roll is based on a review of three years of AP data, from 2015 to 2017, looking across 38 AP Exams, including world language and culture, the College Board said.

In 2016, Massachusetts was ranked first in the nation in terms of the percentages of 12th-graders that scored a 3 or higher on an AP exam. Approximately 44.1 percent of Massachusetts’ class of 2016 took at least one AP exam while they were in high school, with 31 percent of the overall class scoring 3 or higher out of a possible 5 on an AP exam, according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“Congratulations to all the educators and administrators in [Berkshire Hills] who have worked to clear a path for more students of all backgrounds to participate and succeed in AP,” said Trevor Packer, head of AP and Instruction at the College Board. “These educators and administrators are fostering a culture in their schools and classrooms that allows students to face new challenges and build the confidence to succeed.”