Schools with many AP tests but lousy scores
We education watchers are gradually waking up to the fact that a very small but growing number of educators are using Advanced Placement, originally designed for only the best high schools, as a shock treatment to improve instruction at some of our worst high schools.
This is not, to say the least, a well-understood trend. Some of the smartest AP people in the country do not like it. Others do. I think it has great potential benefits, but it is too soon to draw solid conclusions. So I have appointed myself the unofficial scorekeeper for such schools, and have created a special category for them -- what I call the Catching Up schools -- in my annual Challenge Index ratings. This includes my ranked list of all public high schools in the Washington area, published in The Washington Post, and a separate list of schools nationally that have the highest AP test participation rates, best known as America's Best High Schools in Newsweek.com.
I am giving this such attention because when I have looked at schools using this wild approach, it seems to be working for them. Students and parents like the challenge and don't care if they are unlikely to pass many of the tests. The teachers are energized. The fears of critics that using AP with low-performing students will create false expectations and low self esteem seem unfounded.
The Catching Up lists are separate from the main Challenge Index lists. (I am about to update the Newsweek list, by the way, so any school that is not on the list now but thinks it qualifies because it gave at least as many AP, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge tests as it had graduating seniors in 2009 should e-mail me at email@example.com.)
We were slow this year in getting the national Catching Up list on Newsweek.com, but it will soon be there, so I wanted to explain what it shows about this odd group of schools that think they can help students who are below grade level with a program designed to mimic courses given in the first year of college. Here is the national Catching Up list of 33 ranked schools, with a short introduction:
AP programs have evolved in an unusual way in some high schools with large numbers of impoverished students. Educators at these schools have concluded that although few of their students are likely to achieve passing scores on the three-hour college-level AP exams, many would benefit from taking AP courses and tests that acquaint them with college standards and help them build academic muscle for college. Once students are involved in AP, they say, teachers can help them catch up to the AP standard through improved instruction and more challenging programs in lower grades.
This approach to AP is so different from most high schools that Newsweek has decided to provide a separate list for those schools where less than 10 percent of AP tests earn passing scores. Each school is ranked as usual by its Challenge Index rating, the ratio of AP tests to graduating seniors. The list gives the name of the school, followed in parentheses by the passing rate on all AP exams taken at the school, followed by the school's location, its percentage of students who qualify for federal lunch subsidies and its Challenge Index ratio.
1. Robert E. Lee (3% ) Jacksonville, Fla. 48% 4.889
2. Baldwin (6.1%) Jacksonville, Fla. 29% 3.958
3. Maya Angelou-Shaw (2%) Washington, D.C. 80% 3.769
4. Jones (2%) Orlando, Fla. 77% 3.611
5. Hogan Prep (0.6%) Kansas City, Mo. 80% 3.356
6. Maya Angelou-Evans (3.8%) Washington, D.C. 80% 3.038
7. Diamond Hill-Jarvis (4%) Fort Worth, Tex. 87% 2.866
8. Wolfson (9.7%) Jacksonville, Fla. 39% 2.836
9. Terry Parker (7.2%) Jacksonville, Fla. 41% 2.831
10. A. Philip Randolph (3%) Jacksonville, Fla. 57% 2.718
11. Ribault (2.9% ) Jacksonville, Fla. 55% 2.665
12. First Coast (6.9%) Jacksonville, Fla. 29% 2.451
13. SEED Charter (8%) Washington, D.C. 76% 2.450
14. Friendship Collegiate (4 %) Washington, D.C. 70% 2.198
15. Edward N. White (9.2%) Jacksonville, Fla. 40% 2.061
16. Oak Ridge (9%) Orlando, Fla. 56% 2.054
17. Crossland (2.3%) Prince George’s County, Md. 41% 2.038
18. Frank H. Peterson (5.8) Jacksonville, Fla. 23% 2.037
19. Raines** (0.6% ) Jacksonville, Fla. 62% 1.762
20. Nathan B. Forrest (9.6% ) Jacksonville, Fla. 46% 1.655
21. Evans (5%) Orlando, Fla. 71% 1.588
22. Jackson (1.8%) Jacksonville, Fla. 59% 1.558
23. Leto (9%) Tampa, Fla. 71% 1.511
24. Miami Edison (4.6%) Miami, Fla. 82% 1.497
25. Empowerment (0%) Houston, Tex. 66% 1.483
26. Miami Central (5%) Miami, Fla. 79% 1.382
27. James Madison (5.1%) Houston, Tex. 78% 1.257
28. Surrattsville (6%) Prince George’s County, Md. 29% 1.246
29. Gwynn Park (5%) Prince George’s County, Md. 23% 1.138
30. Miami Carol City (3.8%) Miami, Fla. 72% 1.096
31. International Business
and Communications (5%) Charlotte, N.C. 50% 1.061
32. Avondale (1.6%) Avondale Estates, Ga. 85% 1.008
33. Ouachita (9%) Donaldson, Ark. 45% 1.000
There were 31 schools on last year's list. Only 18 of them remain on this year's. Some of those that didn't appear this time failed to qualify because their index ratio fell below 1.000. Some failed to respond to my requests for their 2009 data.
But six of last year's Catching Up schools improved their passing rate on the AP exams enough to move from this list to the main list. Here they are, with their change in passing percentage:
Columbia Heights (formerly Bell Multicultural), Washington D.C., 8 to 14 percent.
R.L. Osborne, Marietta, Ga., 9 to 14 percent
Englewood, Jacksonville, Fla., 9 to 13.4 percent
San Bernardino, San Bernardino, Calif., 8.4 to 16 percent
Thurgood Marshall, Washington, D.C., 2 to 19 percent
McKinley Tech, Washington, D.C., 5 to 10 percent
Englewood, San Bernardino and McKinley Tech had somewhat lower index ratios in 2009 than they had in 2008. The other three, Columbia Heights, R.L. Osborne and Thurgood Marshall, had higher ratios. That means they not only gave more AP tests but had more tests with passing scores.
As you can see, this experiment affects just a few schools in a small number of districts -- Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, Miami, the District, Kansas City, Houston, Fort Worth, Prince George's County, Charlotte, Avondale Estates and Donaldson, 12 in all. Sixty-four percent of the schools have more than half of their students coming from low-income families.
I set the target for moving off the Catching Up list at 10 percent of all AP tests with passing scores, because at that point these schools produce as many passing scores as schools with average passing rates and average AP test participation rates. Enough of them are making progress to lead me to think that their principals, no matter how wrong-headed they might look to some critics, might be doing something right.
So I will continue to keep score and see where this goes. I welcome messages to firstname.lastname@example.org from any educators or students at any of these schools. Tell me how this unusual approach looks to you from the inside.
| July 1, 2010; 9:30 PM ET
Categories: Trends | Tags: AP schools with bad passing rates, Catching Up lists, Challenge Index, using AP as a shock treatment for low-performing students
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