Gwinnett County receives national education accolade

Georgia’s largest public school district received national accolades Tuesday for its efforts in getting students to take more rigorous courses and for how students performed in those classes.

The College Board named Gwinnett County its Advanced Placement District of the Year among the nation’s largest school districts. Gwinnett did the best job of getting more students to take AP courses, and its students, including those from low-income backgrounds, improved their academic performance on AP exams.

Typically, AP scores decline when more students take those courses, said Trevor Packer, the College Board’s senior vice president of AP and instruction.

“That is strange. That is unusual. That is aberrant. That is not the norm,” Packer said of Gwinnett’s results during the announcement at Gwinnett’s Duluth High School.

In fact, Packer said the accomplishment is “honorificabilitudinitatibus.” Shakespeare lovers may recognize the word from his play “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” which means the state of being able to achieve honors.

Since 2014, student participation in AP has increased in Gwinnett by 5 percent each year, College Board officials said. Last school year, 61 percent of Gwinnett students scored a 3 or better, which is the threshold for strong performance.

Only 3 percent of the nation’s schools that administer AP courses had an increase in performance while adding more students. Atlanta’s school district was also among the 3 percent that did so, College Board officials said.

The College Board, headquartered in New York City, creates the SAT exam and the course descriptions for Advanced Placement classes. Colleges typically give credits to students who score well on AP exams.

College Board officials believe Gwinnett’s strong AP results stem from working as early as elementary school to prepare students for such coursework. Duluth High senior Cameren Carter, an admitted procrastinator, said taking AP courses has made him a better problem-solver and improved his time management. Carter is scheduled to have completed 10 AP courses when he graduates.

The courses and teachers “provided me not only with college readiness, but preparation for life and opportunities,” said Carter, who plans to attend Columbia University this fall.

The announcement came a day before the College Board released data on how students who took the courses last school year performed on AP exams. In Georgia, slightly more than 22 percent of students scored better than a 3 on at least one AP exam. Fifteen states did better than Georgia. The national average was 21.9 percent, according to College Board data.

College Board officials believe Georgia fared above average because of programs to help Hispanic students and being one of the only states that pays for one AP exam for low-income students. Georgia’s low-income students did better than most nationally, they said.

“That’s the telling story for Georgia,” said Lynn Demmons, the College Board’s kindergarten through 12th grade senior director for Georgia.

The College Board honor is one of several highly prized education awards Gwinnett has received in recent years. In 2014, Gwinnett was the co-recipient of the Broad Prize, which honors a larger school district for its efforts helping low-income and nonwhite students. Gwinnett was the sole winner of that award, which some call the Nobel Prize of education, in 2010.

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