During the July 26, 2022, the Hernando County School Board workshop, the board heard a presentation led by Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS). The focus of EOS is to ensure that students who have been historically underrepresented or are of low-income families have equal access to advanced educational opportunities. These advanced programs include Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE). (AICE is the newest of the advanced programs and is an international diploma program created at the University of Cambridge in England. The AICE program is offered at Central High School.)
At the regular meeting, the board approved a $113,500 contract renewal with EOS. The vote to approve was en-masse with other items listed as “All Other Purchase Order/Bid Agenda Items” in the meeting agenda.
EOS is directly involved with faculty and staff to identify students who may qualify for advanced placement. They do not directly reach out to students.
Flanked by Supervisor of Secondary Programs John Morris, and Kevin Maloney Director of The College Board, Dr. Tracy Conrad of Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS) presented to the Hernando County School Board (HCSD) members the 2021-22 End-of-Year Outcomes of the EOS program.
These advanced classes are available to high school students in the 11th and 12th grades.
In 2018 there were 865 AP students in the District. 69% of students passed AP exams with a 3 or higher.
In 2021 there were 1313 AP students in the District. 62% of students passed AP exams with a 3 or higher.
In 2022 there were 1324 AP students in the District. 65% of students passed AP exams with a 3 or higher.
Scores of 3 or higher (on a scale of 1-5) are considered competitive by colleges and universities.
According to College Board data sent to the Florida Department of Education in 2017, there were 945 AP students. 57% of exams taken were passed with a 3 or higher.
Conrad also presented a survey of 2053, 10th and 11th grade students on an outreach list of historically underrepresented students. She stated that they found that 764 were taking at least 1 AP, IB or AICE class. She reports that this reflects a -1% decrease in the expected participation rate for students in AICE/AP/IB. This is a -20 student decrease in the number of students expected to participate in AICE/AP/ IB classes.
There is a 39% conversion rate of students on the outreach list of potential students. Which means 39% went on to take at least one AP or IB course.
Conrad reported on “support and belonging” feedback from both students and parents. In a survey of low-income and historically underrepresented students, 80% of students reported teachers caring about them and their learning process. 65% reported agreeing with the statement, “My teacher takes time to get to know me.” School staff perceptions of their relationships with parents are mostly positive.
She went on to say that even if a student in an advanced education class or program does not have very high scores on their initial attempt, they usually do on their second and subsequent.
To decrease the number of students dropping out of advanced classes, the EOS proposes changes involving more contact with students and families and discontinuing a requirement for summer homework required of enrollees. The program also features personalized attention for struggling students to overcome obstacles in their learning path.
The EOS also recommends that schools “ensure that students of color requesting AP/IB classes are a priority in master scheduling.”
HCSD member Linda Prescott was the first to respond to the presentation, addressing the opinions of some citizens that EOS’s involvement dilutes the academic rigor of these advanced programs.
“For some reason, we have a small group of people who think that by employing you that we are ‘dummying down’ the curriculum in our AP, our IB, and our AICE programs. I don’t know how to get the message out to them that we are not in fact doing that because these are International tests. We wouldn’t have the participation, and we wouldn’t have the results.”
Prescott asked the presenters if they have faced similar opinions. Conrad and Maloney nodded in the affirmative.
“This is a myth that somehow the teacher is going to have to not get through the curriculum, or slow down. The curriculum is the curriculum, and they get through it,” Conrad said.
“In fact, we’re bringing students up,” Board Member Susan Duval added. “That’s exactly what this is all about. It is the different kinds and levels of support, and the care and the commitment of both the students and the teachers who make the difference. We are bringing kids up, not ‘dummying down.’
“We must be able to expand our level of academic and personal success with our kids by being involved with this, they start to believe they can-do [sic], and that is a gift.”
Conrad agreed, “The fact that we’re adding students and their experiences are good, and scores are going up really sort of debunks that thought that curriculum is being ‘dummied down,” or that (the students) are not getting to what they need. The scores wouldn’t be reflective of that.”
Of those critical of EOS, Duval said, “They’re putting our students down by saying those things when it’s the exact opposite that is occurring out there every day … Our kids can rise to the occasion. And they will. Believe it.”
Conrad speculated that the belief may be held that look at education as a pie — there may not be enough for everyone. “There’s only so many pieces of pie, and if your child doesn’t get the piece of pie and it goes to someone else, (your child) is missing out … when in reality, they all benefit. One group does not have to miss out as a result of another group having opportunities.”
HCSD Member Kay Hatch serves as a Proctor for the AICE exam and added that each year she sees more students attending the exams. “Nobody is being left out. More students are being included.”
Superintendent John Stratton said that those opposed to EOS are not parents or grandparents of students in the Hernando County school system.
Retired attorney and researcher Arlene Glantz is one community member concerned about the methods of EOS.
“Whether or not you have children or grandchildren in the Hernando County Schools, what has been brought into the schools is Marxist indoctrination: brought in in the form of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Equity programs to transform our democratic republic into a socialist state,” stated Glantz in a recent column published in The Hernando Sun. She would rather see the funding used to improve programs supporting at risk students in lower grades.
“The desire and need to lift up academically lower performing students is not the problem, rather the problem is the use of CRT, and Equity to do so. An aggressive approach to helping academically lower performing students at early ages seems a logical and realistic approach to lowering the Achievement Gap variances.
“You can close or significantly lower the Achievement Gap before it starts. Falling behind in reading and math does not start or first show up in the higher grades,” stated Glantz.
In June 2019, the school district approved a collaboration agreement with EOS in efforts to close the achievement gap in Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) courses. The School District paid EOS $124,000 for the 2019-2020 school year and $112,000 for projects in the 2020-2021 school year. Staff members made visits to Pasco County to see how the program was implemented there and obtained support from principals prior to the school board approving the program.
The funding came from a Title IV, Part A federal grant – Student Support and Academic Achievement. EOS assisted the district in creating student surveys to identify potential lower performing students for AP, IB and AICE courses; and set up equity teams for each school. According to Shepard: Equity teams identify gaps in learning for the school’s subgroups; create goals for the annual SIP (School Improvement Plan); identify best research based practices; work with school staff to ensure instruction is aligned to the SIP.
Another task was changing teacher mindsets as described by Tracy Conrad with EOS:
“We have in our mind this idea of what an AP student looks like and so we have to have some conversations; be thought partners with principals to really look at how we can eliminate some of those barriers that teachers might have with their implicit biases and then finally we do the outreach and support and you’re going to be amazed at the number of students that we add to those advanced classes.”
Hernando Sun Editor Julie B. Maglio contributed to this report.