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Two very different AP schools, both with good news

I received some interesting news recently from two Washington area high schools, Washington-Lee in Arlington County and the Friendship Collegiate Academy in the District. W-L, as it is often called, is a regular public school. Friendship is a public charter school. About 34 percent of the W-L students are low-income. That figure is twice as high, 70 percent, at Friendship.

W-L graduates about 400 seniors a year, Friendship about 250. They both have dedicated teachers and ambitious programs to give as many students as possible exposure to college-level courses. W-L has both Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses. Friendship also has AP, plus access to a significant number of University of Maryland and University of District of Columbia courses.

Friendship has fewer affluent, college-educated families than W-L does. (Arlington, where W-L is, has just been declared by the Brookings Institution as having the largest portion of adults with bachelor's degrees, 68 percent, of any U.S. county.) Friendship students mostly come from D.C. schools with standards not as high as those in Arlington. So they start high school, on average, at a lower level.

AP for them is a big challenge. Last year, only 21 of Friendship's AP exams received passing grades of 3, 4 or 5. The faculty has been preparing students for AP earlier, however, giving them more writing and reading in lower grades. This year it paid off, with 30 passing scores, a 43 percent increase. Four students scored the top mark, a 5, on the AP U.S. Government and Politics exam. One student passed four AP exams, in World History, U.S. History, English Language and Calculus. Another student, a junior, had passing scores in Human Geography, World History and U.S. Government and Politics.

"As part of Friendship's mission to prepare students to graduate from college, their charter high school is committed to exposing increasing numbers of students to AP courses increasingly early in their high school careers," said Barnaby Towns, spokesman for the Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, the D.C. nonprofit that supports charters.

W-L is going in the same direction. The College Board discourages schools from giving AP World History to ninth-graders. It is designed as a senior year course, after students have taken AP European and AP U.S. history. But W-L decided to try an AP World History course for freshmen anyway as part of its plan to show that anyone can do AP. Its goal is to have every student at the school take at least one AP or IB course, something that usually happens only at magnet schools with restricted enrollments.

Nationally, only 5.6 percent of the students taking AP World History exams in 2009 were ninth-graders. Their results were not that great. Only 43 percent of those freshmen received passing scores -- 22 percent got 3s, 13 percent got 4s and 8 percent got 5s.

But the results from the 33 W-L ninth graders who this year took that course and its three-hour final exam were very different. Ninety-four percent had passing scores --
12 percent 3s, 42 percent 4s and 39 percent 5s. (Those three numbers would add up to 94 if I didn't round off.)

W-L’s principal gives the credit to AP World History teachers Christina Steury and Jeana Norton. They did just what Friendship has been doing. Students received more early preparation. The rising freshmen who signed up for AP were invited to attend an "Introduction to Advanced Courses" program at the school last summer. "We began to prepare these kids for the rigor that lay ahead," Robertson said. "We realized that these kids were not only going to be new to AP/IB, but they were also new to high school."

Across the country, schools are introducing more students to college-level courses. Some educators and parents are worried that it is too much, too soon. But I think that overlooks the power of good teaching done before the AP, IB and other college courses begin. If that early preparation is working in schools as different as Friendship and W-L, it seems to me it could work anywhere.

Read Jay's blog every day, and follow all of The Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education web page.

By Jay Mathews  | July 27, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Friendship Collegiate Public Charter High School in the District, Friendship has 43 percent gain in passing AP tests, Unusual progress in AP courses, W-L has almost perfect passing rate in AP course given to ninth graders, Washington-Lee High School in Arlington County  
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Thanks for highlighting these success stories. My children's affluent school district (which is always highly ranked within the State) categorically refuses to consider early AP, even for exceptional students that are highly motivated to take on advanced work.

Your story may help me continue to lobby for early AP in appropriate situations.

Posted by: EduCrazy | July 27, 2010 8:59 AM | Report abuse

This article is a lot like George Carlin's joke about sports scores. And now here are some scores 33-24; 21-17; 18-10; and now here's a partial score, Stanford 17...
The problem is that there needs to be a little more info to decide whether the news from these two schools is "good news."
For example, it would be helpful to know whether the increase in exams passed at Friendship (from 21-30) was produced because more students took the exams or just because the same (or fewer) number of students took more exams.
Even more important, it would be good to know the respective numbers of exams given in year #1 (21 passing exams) and year #2 (30 passing exams). How many more exams were failed in year #2 in order to get 9 more exams with passing scores?
Finally, what is the overall passing percentage (based on the numbers of exams taken) at the two schools? The national average of exams receiving a passing score is about 60%.
Challenging students is fine, but merely setting challenging standards and having relatively few students meet the standards is questionable policy.

Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | July 27, 2010 11:03 PM | Report abuse

Across the country, schools are introducing more students to college-level courses. Some educators and parents are worried that it is too much, too soon. But I think that overlooks the power of good teaching done before the AP, IB and other college courses begin.
******* If that early preparation is working in schools as different as Friendship and W-L, it seems to me it could work anywhere.******


Careful Mathews, you're making way too much sense.

EFFECTIVE educational foundation must begin much earlier for students to be succesful by the time they are of age to take AP or IB courses in high school.

Posted by: TwoSons | July 28, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

So much wrong here, Jay.

There's something to a version of the Turing Box in education: have students do something, the worthy mastery of which behind a gauze curtain would leave us uncertain it wasn't done by adults (not computers, as in Turing's version). Like learning to play an instrument, describe the intricacies of a mathematical problem, chemical process, or biological structure. Those are some of the things 9th graders should or could be doing by this version of a Turing test.

College Level, AP World History instead? Makes as much sense as having them spend the year learning marriage or substance abuse counseling, and believing they've learned it because they can pass the test. How could you possibly believe the students are prepared to challenge what they are taught, as 9th graders. What do you think of the test which would give them credit for early-adult thinking levels to early pubescents?

As for Friendship Charter: You have a clustering problem. 7 of the 8 additional passes this year were due to 2 students. Congrats to Friendship HS for becoming credible enough to attract and develop such students. The school has and is using them in this blog as it will, if they are from low-income backgrounds, to tout millions of $ in scholarship offers (for 2 students X 4 years X $50K/yr X 10 expensive schools the counselor will encourage them to apply to.)
With every bit of respect for those students and their teachers, I'll add that the presence of such clustered success, and the expectation of "snowballing", is part of why Value Added models of teacher effectiveness are bad science out of bad models of how schools operate. Those students' teachers supported the talents those students came with, AND, if they were not just lucky-- but good -- they took advantage of those kids' presence to encourage and support other kids in classes with them.
The principal of Friendship Charter, in the meantime, has used the WaPo eminence gris education writer to attract more highly qualified students. In that he is doing his/her job. But, the blogger hasn't done his.

Posted by: incredulous | July 31, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

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