So, I looked up 4 sets of numbers at Amherst Regional High and Northampton High: course requirements, mean SAT scores, AP class offerings, and AP scores. These are pretty similar high schools -- Amherst is somewhat larger (1201 kids versus 896 kids), whereas Northampton has more low income kids (26.4% versus 17.3%) and more kids in special ed (21.8% versus 18.6%). But overall, I think they are a decent comparison -- two moderately sized high schools in Western MA in college towns.
- Both schools require 4 years of English and 3 years of social studies
- Northampton requires 3 years of math and 3 years of science; Amherst requires only 2 years of each of these subjects
- Northampton requires an additional writing class (no such requirement in Amherst)
- Northampton requires 2 additional core academic classes (including world language), whereas Amherst has no other academic requirements
- Amherst requires a class in PE and a class in health, whereas Northampton requires one class in "wellness"
SAT scores are required by many colleges and thus are an important way of assessing how competitive students will be for college admissions (and scholarship aid). In 2008, 246 of the 1201 students at Amherst High took the SAT (20%, which makes sense given that these tests are typically taken by seniors or perhaps juniors). In Northampton, 170 of the 896 students took these tests (19%). So, about the same % of students at both schools took the tests.
Amherst students tend to do slightly better on the SAT than students in Northampton: 570 reading (versus 552), 582 math (versus 573), 571 writing (versus 555). Although the Amherst numbers are better, remember that Northampton has more low income and special education students than Amherst (and those students tend to perform worse on the SAT).
AP Classes Offered
Both schools offer AP English Literature, AP European History, AP Bio, AP Physics C, AP Calculus AB, AP French, and AP Spanish.
In addition to those 7 classes, Amherst also offers 4 additional AP classes: AP Calculus BC, AP Latin, AP Chinese, and AP Environmental Studies.
In addition to these 7 classes, Northampton offers 5 additional AP classes: AP Chemistry, AP Physics B, AP Statistics, AP US History, and AP Microeconomics.
Interestingly, although both schools offer basically the same number of AP classes (11 versus 12 -- although of course Amherst is a larger high school with more overall classes and students and faculty), the types of AP classes differ considerably. In Amherst, 36% of the AP classes offered are in world language (4 of the 11), 45% are in math and science (combined; 5 of the 11), and 18% are in English/social studies combined (2 of 11). In Northampton, 17% of the AP classes offered are in world language (2 of 12), 50% are in math and science (6 of the 12), and 34% are in English/social studies combined (4 of the 12).
There has been a lot of talk on this blog about AP classes, and whether we should have them, and who takes them and so on. But two things are quite clear: first, these classes do help kids get into college, and second, these classes can help kids place out of college classes (and thus have more options in their schedules -- and sometimes reduce college costs).
In 2008, 143 kids in Amherst took an AP test (for a total of 203 test taken, since some kids take more than 1). That means 12% of the kids in Amherst High took at least one AP test. Of the 203 tests taken, 176 received a 3, 4, or 5 (the scores you need to get college credit) -- meaning 87% of kids in Amherst High who took an AP got such a score.
In contrast, 188 kids in Northampton took an AP test (for a total of 324 tests taken), meaning 21% of the kids took an AP test. However, only 244 of the 324 tests taken received a 3, 4, or 5, meaning 75% of tests had such a score.
What does this mean? It means a much higher % of kids in Northampton are taking AP tests than kids in Amherst -- although kids in Amherst tend to do better on the tests (which makes sense -- if we are only having higher achieving kids take the class and/or the test). But given the differences in the populations at these schools (e.g., Amherst has fewer low income kids and fewer kids in special education), it seems quite clear that Amherst is under-represented in terms of kids taking AP tests.
One more thing to note: in the Amherst High Program of Studies, students who take AP classes are told they can take the AP if they want, but are not required to do so. In contrast, in the Northampton High program of studies, students are told that those taking AP classes are REQUIRED to take the test - and it is noted that the fee for the test is waived for kids on free/reduced lunch. I imagine this policy (of both requiring the test and waiving the fee based on financial need) helps more Northampton kids take AP classes and potentially receive college credit and/or placement out of entry level courses.