AP failures up, successes too.
Jack Gillum and Greg Toppo of USA Today (bias alert: my wife works there) have two good stories on the growing percentage of failing scores on Advanced Placement tests. They've gone from 36.5 percent in 1999 to 41.5 percent last year--and a 48.4 percent failure rate in the southern states.
Neither AP fans like me nor the AP critics who often write me should have any problem with this factually deep and wonderfully illustrated package of stories. Gillum and Toppo show the impact the growing movement to coax average and below-average students into AP has had on the percentage of students who pass the 3-hour college-level exams. They also give Trevor Packer, the College Board vice president who oversees AP, a chance to make the equally important point that opening AP to everyone who wants to work hard has significantly increased the number of students who are passing the tests and giving themselves a head start on college.
I have only two thoughts to add, both of which Gillum and Toppo would likely have included if they had had enough space:
1. AP tests are graded by outside experts on a five-point scale, 5 being the rough equivalent of a college A, 4 a B, 3 a C, 2 a D and 1 an F. Grades of 3 and above have a chance of earning college credit at many colleges (although not the top 10 percent most selective schools) and so are referred to as passing scores. Grades of 1 or 2 are said to be failing, as the USA Today stories note, but research shows a grade of 2 may have unexpected benefits. Astudyof a very large sample of students in Texas shows that even students with relatively low achievement levels on other standardized tests did better in college if they had a 2 on an AP exam than similar students did who did not take AP.
2. The high AP failure rate for southern schools, carefully examined by USA Today, does reflect, as the writers say, an effort by many high school educators to institute AP classes before many of their students are ready for them. They accept the fact that their failure rates are going to be high at the beginning, but see no way to build the programs that will prepare future classes for AP unless they have an AP program up and running.
The Catching Up list, part of my annual Challenge Index ratings of high schools, is reserved for schools that fit this profile. The teachers at those schools share the view of, say, a rugby coach who doesn't think students at his U.S. school can get ready for a sport that is so new to them unless he puts them in the local school rugby league right away, even though they will probably lose most of their matches the first few years. The USA Today writers make the same point with their second story which shows how Maryland beefed up its AP instruction when it saw its failure rates increasing, and made a significant improvement.
Read Jay's blog every day at http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle.
| February 4, 2010; 2:25 PM ET
Categories: Jay on the Web | Tags: AP students passing tests increases, Advanced Placement, College Board, Greg Toppos, Jack Gillum, Trevor Packer, USA Today, rising AP failure rates
Save & Share: Previous: Problems with D.C. teacher evaluation
Next: Readers question Challenge Index
Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | February 4, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: daveairozo | February 4, 2010 9:03 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: GSN1787 | February 5, 2010 12:58 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | February 5, 2010 4:25 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: LadyJane341 | February 6, 2010 2:07 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: efavorite | February 6, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 7, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.