Nesteene Param, a 17-year-old senior at Woodbury High School, needed a challenge.

Her teachers' lectures weren't stimulating, she would fly through her homework, and she wasn't learning much of anything new.

So Param decided to enroll in several Advanced Placement classes.

AP courses challenge students with college-level work and require them to think more critically. Students who score well on the AP exam can earn college credits.

Param was one of 1,292 South Washington County District students to enroll in AP courses this year, 713 more students than in 2009.

Administrators and teachers also saw the portion of students passing their AP exams rise from 59 percent in 2009 to 66 percent this year.

The College Board, which administers AP curriculum and exams, recently placed the district on its Honor Roll for both increasing the number of students taking AP courses and boosting the percentage of students passing their course exams.

It's a rare feat.

The district was one of 11 school districts in Minnesota and 400 across the nation to be given the award.

"Philosophically, it may seem a little trite," Rick Spicuzza, the district's assistant superintendent for curriculum and assessment, said of the reasons the district wanted to increase the number of students taking AP exams. "We started asking the question of who we are and what do we want to be.

"What we really started identifying was that we were a district that could be and should be performing better than we were. I think offering AP courses is kind of a well-defined and articulated standard of practice that we can all strive for."

To increase enrollment in the courses, the district removed most of the enrollment qualifications. Any student who thought he or she was up to the challenge could enroll. The district also expanded the number of AP course offerings. And teachers began encouraging students who they thought had potential to enroll in an AP course.

Woodbury High Principal Linda Plante said students are often hesitant about enrolling in AP courses because they're intimidated by the amount of work they will be given or they're afraid they'll fail the class.

To combat that, teachers throughout the district were given professional development and encouraged to intervene with struggling students.

"It's rare that we would get to the end of a course where a student is struggling where we haven't intervened early and have had those conversations," Plante said. "From our point of view we hope that it's never a surprise at the end of the year how they're doing in the class."

Students are required to study more for AP course work and are required to use college-level textbooks that test students' analytical skills, said Woodbury High's Wes Bolin, an AP world history teacher. He said he assigns about an hour of homework a night.

"It's a sense of satisfaction my students receive when they complete the entire program that I think is really worth it," Bolin said.

Ryan Garbe, a 16-year-old sophomore at Woodbury High, said he enrolled in AP world history for the challenge.

"Everyone wants to learn in AP classes," he said. "It's an all-around better learning environment."

Daarel Burnette II • 651-735-1695 Twitter: @DaarelStrib