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Antelope Valley Spotlight: Gold Certified Biomedical Pathway sees record high Advanced Placement scores

August 25, 2020

When schools began to close this spring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, uncertainty hung over students, educators, and administrators. Would there still be a prom? What would happen to graduation? And, for many students, what would happen to the Advanced Placement tests they’d spent so long preparing for? In Antelope Valley Union High School District, students at Eastside High School Biomedical Science Linked Learning pathway persisted through the pandemic to make great strides in their Advanced Placement test performance.

Antelope Valley sits 70 miles outside of Los Angeles in a desert region of California. It is home to government and private sector aerospace facilities and a growing healthcare sector. The Antelope Valley school community is diverse, with 88% of students identifying as students of color, 71% of students qualifying for free/reduced lunch, and 9% of students identifying as English Learners. Eastside High School serves an especially diverse community, with 88% of students identifying as African American or Latinx, and 90% qualifying for free/reduced lunch. To foster student engagement, support high school graduation rates, and drive strong postsecondary outcomes, Antelope Valley Union High School District has leveraged Linked Learning as a strategy for education and economic transformation since 2016.

Linked Learning is a proven, systemic approach to college and career preparation that creates opportunities for students to learn and grow through real work experiences. There are now five Linked Learning pathways in Antelope Valley Union High School district, including the Biomedical Science Academy at Eastside High School.

One of the ways the Biomedical Science Academy pathway provides students with high quality learning opportunities is through Advanced Placement courses. Beginning in tenth grade, all pathway students enroll in Advanced Placement World History. At first, some students were apprehensive about this course placement. “In the first year, I remember the kids were like, ‘I’m not an AP student,’” shared Kerin Coffey, a ninth grade Biomedical Science Academy pathway teacher. But the pathway is built on a culture of high expectations that set students up for success, even if they don’t consider themselves a “traditional” Advanced Placement student.

Beginning in ninth grade, students are cohorted within the Biomedical Science Academy pathway. They remain with the same group of peers throughout their four years at Eastside High School, and all members of the cohort have the same educators for core classes. Teachers and administrators alike credit the cohort model with increasing student success. “It’s multiple tiers of supports,” assistant principal Blake Stanford explained. “The students’ teachers are able to have conversations about where students are doing well, where they may be struggling, and work together to provide integrated supports across subjects.” These cohorts of teachers also allow for deep curricular integration, keeping learning real and relevant across content areas. Alesia Stonerock, Advanced Placement World History teacher in the Biomedical Science Academy pathway, gave an example of how she integrates curriculum to support students: “In English, students are learning how to look at and use evidence to support a claim. In their biomedical class, students are learning about drug enhancement in sports. So in AP World History, I had students write a compare and contrast essay about what they were learning about in their biomedical class, using skills they were practicing in English class, and preparing for a skill that’s on the AP World History test. It was really cool."

When Antelope Valley Union High School District closed its buildings in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the teachers and administrators in the Biomedical Science Academy pathway were able to leverage the relationships they had built with the students in their cohort to continue Linked Learning virtually. “The relationships that our biomedical teachers and cohorted teachers established with students carried over to virtual learning,” Mr. Stanford reflected. “With those strong relationships, teachers were able to communicate effectively with their students, and students were able to articulate their needs and struggles.”

With strong relationships came strong motivation. Even though students were no longer able to work in groups or see their teachers every day like they were used to, students continued to prepare for their Advanced Placement exam. “Students cared even though they were doing their work from home. As I saw work come in during those last two months or so, it was quality,” Ms. Stonerock said. 95 students from the Biomedical Science Academy pathway participated in the Advanced Placement World History exam this year. “Even the kids who at the beginning were saying I’m not an AP student realized, “Oh, I can do this,’” Ms. Coffey added.

When the scores were released this summer, Ms. Stonerock expected to see a drop in scores. “Not to be negative, but I thought, ‘We haven’t been here the whole last quarter, which is all review.’” Despite missing in-person review and practice experiences, students in the Biomedical Science Academy pathway outperformed their peers at Eastside High School who were not in the pathway. While the pathway teachers and administrators were incredibly proud of how many students passed the exam, they were also quick to state that passing the Advanced Placement test isn’t the only goal of enrolling in an Advanced Placement course. “Colleges and universities want to see that students challenge themselves. Taking rigorous courses, and getting a B, or a C, is much better than taking all easy classes. When you’re in a pathway, you’re headed down a road that leads to postsecondary education. Doors will open for students so long as we’re challenging them and expect them to meet the challenges we’re giving them,” Ms. Stonerock explained. “Through Linked Learning, and the Advanced Placement expectations in the pathway, our students have the most opportunities as possible to go into either college or career out of high school. And the skills they gain in their pathway are fantastic,” added Mr. Stanford.

As students, teachers, and administrators prepare for the 2020-2021 school year, a lot remains uncertain. But at the Biomedical Science Academy pathway at Eastside High School, one thing remains clear: teachers will continue to build strong relationships with students to support them through high expectations and challenges throughout the school year. In addition to Advanced Placement World History, Biomedical Science Academy students will participate in Advance Placement US History and English during junior year, and an Advanced Placement science course, English, and Government during senior year. “Starting the year virtually is a challenge,” admits Ms. Coffey. “But we know how to build relationships and keep students on their path towards postsecondary opportunities."