Advanced Placement courses, or AP courses, give students the chance to tackle college-level work while still in high school.

But not all college-bound students can get into these challenging courses, which are typically reserved for those who outperform their peers in a given subject and are likely among the top tier of their class grade-wise.

West Milford High School is looking into the possibility of expanding the pool of students who can access AP courses, so they're better prepared for their next educational hurdle.

"We're not going to make kids take AP classes if they don't want to, but I'd like to give them the opportunity to challenge themselves," said school board member Steven Drew, who's been researching the topic for some time and recently floated the idea at a board meeting.

According to Drew, two-thirds of West Milford High's graduates go to college within 12 months of graduating, but only a third take at least one AP course while in high school.

Run by The College Board, the Advanced Placement program does not have strict guidelines as to who can access the courses and exams. Some, but not all, AP courses have recommended prerequisites.

According to The College Board, student participation in AP has expanded greatly over the past decade in the Garden State. In 2009, 46,938 New Jersey students sat for 85,493 AP exams. In 2019, 80,788 students in New Jersey sat for 159,398 AP exams. Over that time, the percentage of AP exam scores of 3 or higher (out of 5) remained consistent.

New Jersey ranked sixth in the nation in 2018 for the share of graduating class students who scored a 3 or higher on at least one AP exam.

In 2019, 567 schools in New Jersey offered AP exams, The College Board said.

West Milford High School offers 27 AP courses; 21 are running this year. Faculty who handle AP courses have to be specially trained to do so.

"We have a number of staff members who are already trained," said Daniel Novak, the district's director of education.

As head of the school board's education committee, Novak is in charge of investigating the possibility of opening AP courses to more students at the high school, and whether it could be successful.

"We can't always expect the answers to be within the walls of West Milford," he said. "So I like to see what other successful districts are doing, and see how things can apply to us."

Novak said "open enrollment" exists elsewhere — any interested student can sign up for AP and take it. If interested in moving forward with the idea, the district could also loosen entry criteria.

According to The College Board, research has shown that AP "delivers value to high school students by reducing college costs, driving degree completion, and advancing students' placement into challenging college courses."

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