The good news about academics, graduation rates


In my last column, I said four or five positive comments are needed to counteract a single negative comment. I also shared that both critical and productive feedback are necessary for an organization to continue improving.

I heard that latter message at a community forum hosted by the St. Croix Valley Foundation. Joe Nathan, director of the Center for School Change at Macalester College, featured newspaper columnist and well-known educational expert, was the speaker at the event.

This week I want to share some of the positive qualities of Stillwater Area High School that Nathan talked about in a question-and-answer format.

How does the graduation rate of "the good old days" compare with that in Minnesota today?

While only 23 percent of students graduated from high school in the 1920s, this increased to 50 percent in the 1950s and is now 73 percent nationwide. Currently in Minnesota, 85 percent of students graduate from high school, which places Minnesota in the top five to six states nationwide. The graduation rate last year for Stillwater Area High School was 96 percent.

What are advanced placement (AP) courses?

Advanced placement (AP) courses are college-level courses that students can take in high school. Typically, SAHS offers these courses to students who are in its honors program or who have completed all the high school courses available in the subject.

These college-level AP courses are more rigorous than high school courses, and students can receive college credit for taking them. Students are graded on a 1-to-5 scale and must receive a score of 3, 4 or 5 to receive college credit. Each class can earn a student three to eight college credits depending on the college and academic area, with each credit worth about $400 (based on University of Minnesota tuition costs). Unfortunately, not all colleges accept these scores as credits earned, but many do.

How many AP courses does Stillwater Area High School offer?

SAHS offers 16 Advanced Placement courses in areas such as English, French, German, Spanish, art history, U.S. history, biology, American government, psychology, calculus, statistics and chemistry. Furthermore, some Advanced Placement courses are also being offered to ninth graders at Oak-Land and Stillwater Junior highs.

Has the number of students taking AP courses at SAHS increased or decreased in recent years?

The number of students taking advantage of these rigorous courses and potential college credit has increased by almost 50 percent during the past five years, from 893 students in 2006 to 1,265 students currently. If these 1,265 students earned just two credits each (at $400 per credit), this means a savings of $1,012,000 to our families.

Has the percentage of students scoring a 3, 4 or 5 in AP courses at SAHS increased or decreased in recent years?

Even with an increase in the number of students participating in these more rigorous classes, the percentage of students scoring a 3, 4 or 5 has also risen from 72 percent in 2006 to 77 percent currently. It is unusual to see increased enrollment in AP classes accompanied by higher test scores, and this is a great testament to the students and teachers in these classes.

What are College in the Schools Classes?

In addition to Advanced Placement classes, SAHS also offers College in the Schools classes (CIS). These classes are University of Minnesota and Century College courses in which students earn college credit. This year CIS classes are offered in concert choir, concert band, concert orchestra, music theory and animal science. Last year there were a total of 185 students that earned between three to four college credits each in these classes. Those 185 students, earning 3 credits each at $400 per credit resulted in $222,000 in college tuition savings for our families.

Why is this good news for us?

Not only has our already high graduation rate risen at SAHS, but we are also seeing more students taking more rigorous courses and potentially receiving college credit for their work. From a parent perspective, this not only means better preparing our students for post-secondary choices but also potentially less time needed at college and tens of thousands of dollars in savings on tuition costs. Let’s encourage even more students to take these classes.

If you would like to learn more about these and other student opportunities at SAHS and/or in the state of Minnesota, visit the high school’s website at and the Center for School Change at As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns or ideas that you may have. Go Ponies!

Superintendent Corey Lunn can be contacted via email at [email protected] or by phone at 651-351-8301. Questions can also be sent by mail to Superintendent, Stillwater Area Public Schools, 1875 South Greeley Street, Stillwater, MN 55082.