University High tops the world
Jan. 11, 2005
Its Advanced Placement scores best among similar-size schools
By Aaron Mackey
University High School's Advanced Placement program is at the head of its class globally when it comes to testing success, according to the board that oversees testing around the world.
The TUSD school's overall scores on the English, government and U.S. history placement tests were the highest in the world among schools of a similar size, according to a letter from the College Board, which oversees testing.
The Advanced Placement program allows high school students to attempt college credit by taking tests in subject areas such as English and calculus. In addition to receiving credit, students can be placed in tougher college courses as a result of the tests.
No other school in the world had a larger proportion of its student body succeed on the three tests than University High, Trevor Packer, the program's executive director, said in a letter to school Principal Stuart Baker.
Baker said the recognition indicates the high quality of education and student success at University High.
"It's symbolic of really an overall program that we have at University (High)," he said.
University High is a highly competitive college preparatory school in the Tucson Unified School District that offers more than 25 Advanced Placement tests.
In his letter to Baker, Packer said the College Board compared University High's scores with those of schools that have a similar enrollment, between 500 and 999 students.
The total student population is then compared with the number of students who received a grade of 3 or higher on the test, which equals a passing grade.
"No other school had a greater proportion of its student body succeed in AP English Language and Composition; AP Government and Politics: Comparative; and AP U.S. History last year," the letter said.
This is the first year that the College Board has compiled the information and made it available to schools, Baker said.
He said several factors led to the students' success on the test, including the focus of the course, quality teachers and student performance.
But more than teaching to a test, Baker said teachers work closely with one another to develop long-term student success.
One intangible element of success is the environment created at University High, where intelligent students push each other to succeed.
"When you get a bunch of very bright people together, there's a synergy that creates more than the sum of its individual parts," Baker said.
University High student Rachel Saul said the school's atmosphere creates success by itself.
"The environment is positive because everyone wants to learn," she said.
Saul, a 17-year-old junior, received a 3 on the AP Government and Politics: Comparative test. Though she was somewhat disappointed with the score, Saul said she enjoyed the course.
The course gave Saul a new perspective on worldwide news events and politics. "You become very aware of what's going on because of the course," she said.
While many factors contributed to the school's overall performance, Baker said a great deal of the credit goes to the students who took the test.
"It really does come down to how well our students performed," Baker said
Student Greg Nix, 18, scored a 4 on the U.S. History AP test last spring. A senior this year, Nix said he felt very prepared for the test.
University High is an excellent school, and the recognition is a wonderful honor, said Patti Lopez, TUSD deputy superintendent. It shows that public high schools can compete with private college preparatory schools, she said.
"Public education is and will continue to offer high-quality education," Lopez said.
Baker agreed. "It clearly says that we can give a very high-quality education," he said.
While the scores will be looked at annually as a benchmark for success, Baker said, they won't affect the school's academic focus.
"If we start making this be the entire focus, it may be counterproductive," Baker said.
Focusing instead on increasing the academic rigor will lend itself to success on the AP tests, Lopez said.
At another Tucson school, St. Gregory College Preparatory, seven seniors were designated by the College Board as AP Scholars because of their performance on the exams, said Deborah Daun, a publicist for the school.
Rebecca Porter received the AP Scholar with Distinction Award for earning an average grade of 3.5 on all exams taken, getting a 3 or higher on five or more of the exams.
Students are graded on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest score.
Vittorio Gonzalez and Nathan Gregory were designated AP Scholars With Honor by earning an average grade of at least 3.25 on all exams taken and grades of 3 or higher on four or more tests.
Lindsay Lazar, Jessica Medwied-Savage, Matthew Milner and Andrea Richardson qualified for the AP Scholar Award for completing three or more AP exams with grades of 3 or higher.
● Contact reporter Aaron Mackey at 629-9412 or at