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AP, International Baccalaureate exam challenge to be on Bedford warrant

BEDFORD - The school board voted not to make any recommendation Monday on a petitioned warrant article that would set targets for the number exams passed in advanced placement and International Baccalaureate testing.

Article 10 on the March school warrant will ask voters to direct the School Board to set an annual goal of a combined total of at least 600 examination passes from the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate Higher Level exams, and implement a plan to achieve that goal.

An explanation in the article states that 321 AP and IB passing exams were achieved in 2012, which is an average of about one per graduating student. The new goal would be to increase that average to two exams passed per student.

"The goal of 600 represents an average of about 2 each, but it would be made up of some students passing 4 or 5 or more (subjects), some 3, quite a lot doing 2 or 1, and some students who wouldn't attempt AP/IB," said Richard Evans, who submitted the petition.

Evans said the article stemmed from his concern that the district is using the wrong yardstick in assessing the effectiveness of its schools.

"There is no question that Bedford has one of the highest performing school systems in the state," he said. "But students in most developed countries overseas have to pass at least three exams, of equivalent difficulty to AP or IB, to be even considered for college admission. I'm convinced that our kids can do just as well as foreign students, and that their lives would be enriched as a result."

Board member Scott Earnshaw said he was pleased that there was a group that wanted to challenge students, but he questioned how to structure such a goal.

"I like the overall concept," he said.

Board member Cindy Chagnon said that while she agrees with setting high academic standards, "this is a goal we should be setting as a board."

Chagnon said it is not realistic to expect every Bedford High School student to take an AP or IB course, and that the district cannot force students to do so.

"I'm all for challenging the kids as much as we can," Chagnon said, "but I would rather not put that the school board supports this."

School Board Vice Chair Terry Wolf said the mission statement of Bedford High School already states that the goal is to stretch students to exceed their comfortable limits, and that school board goals are already in place.

"I appreciate it, I hope it will get some dialog going in the community, but I think it's too narrow," she said. "We don't need a petitioned warrant article to set these goals."

Superintendent Tim Mayes said the district strives for academic excellence.

"Our position is that we've got to get better every year," he said. "From a mission statement point of view, it is our number one priority."

Mayes expressed concern about what the warrant article would do to the district in terms of costs and other services offered to students.

Evans said that, because education is funded publicly, everyone has a vested interest in a highly skilled population of students.

"As taxpayers we are constantly told what we 'owe the children,'" he said. "I've always thought it should be the other way around and we should be asking what the students "owe the taxpayers" in terms of effort in return for the enormous amount of money lavished on them."

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