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High school barred average students from AP

Charles Hebert Flowers High School, one of Prince George’s County’s newer schools, has always set high standards for its students, and seems to be meeting them. It is one of only three high schools in the county with a science and technology program. In 2009 it met all federal targets for adequate yearly progress. Its graduation rate was 82 percent, well above the national average. Its 12th grade passing rate was above 80 percent on all state tests.

Yet it was one of the few schools in the Washington area refusing to let average students challenge themselves in an Advanced Placement course. Students were told this year that AP English, biology, American history, calculus and most of the other college-level courses at the school were open only to those with at least a 3.0 grade point average. They also had to have written permission from a teacher.

In an Aug. 22 e-mail to teachers of honors and AP classes, Flowers principal Helena Nobles-Jones emphatically endorsed this policy: “Please review last year’s academic progress of students enrolled in your classes! Students with average grades can not be enrolled!!!! These classes, by PGCPS standard, should be offered to HIGH ACHIEVING students only!!!”

That policy was, I hasten to say, in sync with most of the rest of the country. A common view among U.S. high school educators is that some kids are just not ready for such an academic challenge, including the long AP reading lists and three-hour final exams. They will get it in college, so why rush? Yet when they reach college they find that the students who were allowed to take AP, even those who struggled in the courses, often are better prepared for higher education’s tougher standards. About two-thirds of high school seniors go on to college each year. Many of them are average students, and only half took a college-level course in high school.

The view that AP is just for A and B students perplexes many educators in this region. Most of our schools dropped such policies more than a decade ago. Before that administrators were reluctant to open AP to all at a school like Wakefield High in Arlington, where 48 percent of students are low-income and presumably don’t have the support of college-educated parents. Yet Wakefield’s AP test participation and passing rates are now about three times as large as those at Flowers, where only 32 percent of students are low-income.

Flowers also has some hidden restrictions. One parent said her daughter was barred from AP statistics because she had not taken pre-calculus, even though elsewhere the requirement is only Algebra II. As a result, the mother said, enrollment in AP statistics at Flowers dropped from 34 to nine students.

Flowers students’ passing rate on AP exams has always been low, no more than 20 percent, but many veteran AP teachers say that students learn more than they would in a regular course, even if they flunk the AP exam, because the AP standards are so high. AP test results arrive too late to affect student grades.

Flowers’ restrictive AP policy also seemed to me at odds with Prince George’s County Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.’s new emphasis on equity, access and effort in raising student achievement. When I asked schools spokesman Darrell Pressley about that, he said county policy forbids grade-point requirements for AP. So what about the rules at Flowers?

He checked and called back to say Nobles-Jones had not known the county’s new policy, and would immediately announce that anyone at Flowers could take AP. That is a quick turnaround, maybe too quick. It is hard to change the culture that fast. Administrators, teachers and counselors may still discourage some students from trying.

It is too late to get average Flowers students into AP this year, but next year I hope parents and students in the Flowers community will make sure the school is following both the letter and the spirit of the new rule. AP should be open to any students who want to work hard, no matter what was on their report cards the year before.

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  | September 26, 2010; 7:00 PM ET
Categories:  Metro Monday  | Tags:  3.0 average required, AP denied to average student, Advanced Placement, Charles Hebert Flowers High School, Prince George's County, principal Helena Nobles-Jones, school quickly drops its rule, violation of county policy  
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Jay is right about this one, but there is so much to be said about AP and IB. He has only scratched the question.

My own experience was with, arguably, the most fierce subject of all, AP chemistry. Almost half of the test-takers nation-wide "fail" it, because it is normed to the full-year university introduction to the discipline, with labs. But then, those are the students who can go on and pass the course in college, where many schools now face a 50% attrition rate. My low-scoring first cohort just graduated college, including a chemical engineer from MIT, a pharmacist, an couple of engineers, and several biology majors.

Many schools limit AP access to get a higher passing rate, but that is a dead end. If we don't use the advanced courses to lift the content of our curriculum across the board, we can't get our students over the ridge to a place where they are comfortable and in command of demanding subjects.

We have to do that for them, not to compete with Hong Kong, but because otherwise we are going to freeze, broil, and starve amid the rubble of our sick and dying cities.

Jay, if we could just get all the cheats and liars off their bullhorns, we could explore these real questions. You should speak up.

Posted by: mport84 | September 26, 2010 7:48 PM | Report abuse

As I've read more on the subject, I've come to understand Jay's position on opening AP enrollment much better. That understanding hasn't translated into agreement, though.

My own experience as a student has been that restricted AP classes work very well. Students need a B+ in Precalc ACC (I think they need an A from the regular class) to get into BC Calc, and a B- for AB. APs Chemistry and Physics require a B+ in the corresponding ACC class. Entering APUSH sophomore year, and AP English III junior year, both require good grades in the preceding class as well.

These are generally (not always, it does depend on the teacher) very good classes. Far more than the more open honors classes, the classes are populated by intelligent, motivated students. That allows the teachers to move the classes much faster than the snail's crawl of most high school classes.

About 60-70 kids take AP Chem each year at my school, and according to my teacher the average score on the test is about a 4.8. Why? Partly prior selection, but mostly (it seemed to me) because the teacher wa free to make the class much more challenging. If there weren't the same restrictions, I doubt we could have learned as quickly or as deeply.

This strikes a sharp contrast with our less restricted AP classes. Something like AP Stat, a class many kids take to get an extra math, turns into a joke of a class. We have high scores on the test, but only because the AP Stat test is notoriously easy.

Now, admittedly this is only my anecdotal experience, and at an exceptional school (we've been in the top 100 schools on the US News rankings more than once). My point is just that what works in one school, district, or region won't necessarily work everywhere. Opening up our AP classes might help the students who can't take them right now, but it would hurt the students who already qualify.

Posted by: PerpetualDissent | September 26, 2010 9:45 PM | Report abuse

" When I asked schools spokesman Darrell Pressley about that, he said county policy forbids grade-point requirements for AP. So what about the rules at Flowers? "

Hahahahaha. So some idiot comes in and makes a dictated change from on high. Jay rats out a school that didn't get the memo, and the superintendant quickly slices off some heads.

At least you could confess that you ratted them out, Jay.

But no, all you're worried about is that this school might want--heaven forfend!--for these kids to take classes in which they'll actually learn something, rather than classes for a political outcome that won't do them any good at all.

But that's okay. They can take the high school classes they need in college, where it will cost them more money and increase their chances for failure. But so long as the school makes a high ranking on the Challenge Index, who cares what's actually good for the students?

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | September 26, 2010 11:20 PM | Report abuse

"AP should be open to any students who want to work hard, no matter what was on their report cards the year before."

Why stop there? I say Harvard should be open to any students who want to work hard, no matter what was on their report card in high school. Nobody is more capable than anyone else. No one should ever be denied or forced to earn anything that they want.

Posted by: CharlesMcKay1 | September 26, 2010 11:41 PM | Report abuse

So this school:
1. Subscribes to the policy of most high schools in the nation (Jay's 4th par.)
2. Is in accord with the majority of AP teachers who believe that too many unprepared students are taking AP classes (Fordham 2009 survey) and
3. Follows the College Board guidelines that suggest that only willing and academically prepared students take AP (6th AP report to the Nation).

Amazing. This school has an annual failure rate of over 80% on AP exams and you are chiding the school for not insisting upon a policy that will insure the failure rate will climb even higher.

Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | September 27, 2010 12:10 AM | Report abuse

Sorry Jay, but I opened the enrollment for my AP classes last year and it turned into a nightmare.

First of all, we are talking AP Government, so not passing my class could result in not graduating from high school, or a low grade could result in not getting into college. Guess what happened.

I had a four kids that were failing the class that had parents clamoring for college prep credit. They figured that since they were failing an AP class because they were lazy that they had worked hard enough for standard credit. They all passed. Then there were the dozen students who received "D"'s that had their parents screaming at me and counselors that one class should not have determined their college careers.

They all got what their parents wanted because after an entire year, does anyone really want to fight off two dozen parents of entitled kids in an argument that eventually the teacher will lose anyway? Of course not. Why waste my energy when I can do a service to all the students by allowing dedicated students into the class. That way I focus on teaching instead of waiting for the next conflict with a student's parent.

Posted by: CoachBrown | September 27, 2010 12:16 AM | Report abuse

As an AP English teacher, I agree with your theory in principle, but not in practice. My DCPS high school has only 50 slots for AP English. By allowing a "first-come-first-serve" enrollment process, many students whose prior performance earned them a spot have been denied a seat. To read more about these challenges, your readers might want to read my blog at

Posted by: dcproud1 | September 27, 2010 5:20 AM | Report abuse

I also agree in principle, and honestly Flowers has probably gone overboard by requiring high GPAs etc...

However, what you advocate, and is seen at schools in DCPS like CHEC and to a lesser degree at Wilson is students being placed in AP classes that they have no interest, desire or ability to take.

I'm more familiar with CHEC (by the way, ever going to follow up on the letter you were sent by Urban Educator?). Unless it has changed, their policy is that all students must take both AP English classes (one in 11th grade, the other in 12th). Last year's DC CAS data shows about 31% of CHEC's students are proficient or advanced.

69% of CHEC's students are reading and writing below grade level, yet you think they should be taking a college level (grade 13) course? This does a great disservice both to the students that are qualified for the course (which now has to be watered down), and the students who aren't, who are completely overwhelmed by the expectations of working at a level well above their current abilities.

On the upside, CHEC has a great challenge index score, and that's more important then actual learning, so it's all good.

I hope someday we can get away from this obsession with numbers of AP exams and actually worry about putting kids where they should be. If that means some kid really wants to try an AP course, then let them try, but for a lot of students that isn't what they want to do, nor are they ready for it, and pretending otherwise hurts everyone.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | September 27, 2010 7:14 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Charles McKay1. AP is supposed to be college level, and if interest is the only criteria for taking it, then why isn't interest the only criteria for attending college? Most college classes above the introductory level have prerequisites for taking them

But what bothers me is the assertion that students should be allowd to take AP because even if they don't pass the exam they will have experience with the kind of work demanded of them in college. Meanwhile, their "normal" college prep students are filling out worksheets or reading a short story aloud and then playing a vocabulary game. They throw a soft ball at the picture of balloons on the SMart Board. The balloon they hit "bursts," revealing a vocabulary word or definition from the story. If the student answers correctly, his team gets a point, with a prize at the end of the year to the team with the most points.

When I took AP (a l-o-o-o-ng time ago!), the idea was that over a period of two years we would do work equal to two years of high school and one year of colleg. Those scoring a 3 on the exam were considered to have mastered one semester of college credit. The honors and regular classes were working on the same skills needed for college--research papers, background familiarity with the subject, etc.--but at a more relaxed pace and maybe with less sophisticated discussions. Now it seems only the AP students are being taught anything and even the college prep and honors students are playing games and just putting in their time until they graduate. And then we wonder why today's high school students act so immature.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | September 27, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

My thanks to CharlesMcKay1 for defining the essence of the sorting culture, and why even great educators have such trouble adjusting to the fact that they are there to teach, not sort. What I am saying is not coming from me but from hundreds of teachers who have seen the problem and bent my ear over it for 28 years. Harvard sorts. Sure. It has no choice, since it doesn't have room for everyone who is willing and able to meet the Harvard standard. It admits it rejects twice as many kids as it accepts who could meet that standard. So high schools get the notion that that is how they should run AP admissions, and it is clear it makes no sense for them. Under that system they reject kids ready to work hard and meet the AP standard, and who get much from the course even when they don't. Requiring AP, the CHEC case (I wrote that blog weeks ago but have had to revise based on legal advice and still must wait for our lawyers to review my latest version) is a harder case for me to make. On the face of it it seems abusive to kids, but I have actually been to the school and talked to the kids. They like it, even the ones who flunk the AP test. They know from first hand experience they are getting a better education this way than they did when they were given standard courses.
For Coach Brown, one of my favorites, I am intrigued that we disagree about this. How about a dialog on our blogs? Please email me at mathewsj@washpost. Among other things I want to know in more detail how those kids passed the course if you didnt want them to. But we can steer away in public from anything that might get you fired.
For mport84, please tell me more about those cheaters and liars, either here or just to me at mathewsj@washpost. Any reader of this blog who wants to send me a private message should do so, using that address, or leave me a message at 703-518-3012. The high point of my day is responding to your comments.
And for patrickmattimore1, a fine disputant in our long standing debate, the problem with yr argument is that the vast majority of the high schools in this area are breaking those rules and precedents that you list, and are very happy with the results. You should talk to them sometime. There can be adjustment problems, as Coach Brown demonstrates, but after 10 years they have gotten into a good rhythm and would never go back to the way most schools in the country do this (NOR does the College Board have any problem with what they are doing. You are misinterpreting the reg. If a kid wants to take an AP course, Trevor Packer the AP chief will tell you he wants to give that kid a chance, as Jaime Escalante did, as long as they get the extra time and encouragement they need.)

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 27, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

You can't ignore that "...willing to work hard..." doesn't translate into an A, B, or C in the courses and the unfortunate bottom line in admissions and scholarships is QPA. I work in a school where thousands of kids take AP courses and have never used the let everyone in approach. That fact has garnered us awards on the national level for pass rate. After reading Charles' Murray's "Real Education" I can't agree less that Jay's is the correct approach. It does keep that index alive, though!

Posted by: chemdork1 | September 27, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

How about a column by Jay Mathews regarding the need for public education in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics?

According to Education Week last week:

... the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, looks broadly at the need to improve STEM education for all K-12 students, with a focus on new federal actions to better prepare and inspire them in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

...the National Science Board, raises an alarm about what it sees as the failure of the U.S. education system to identify and nurture the next generation of high-achieving STEM innovators...

The question should be whether the United States needs public education in the the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics.

In 2000 there were plenty of Americans enrolled in these fields because there were jobs for Americans in these fields.

Now enrollments have dropped since there are no longer entry level jobs for Americans in these fields and these fields require at least 5 years of work in entry level work to obtain the necessary expertise and experience in the field.

Why should the public spend money on these fields when Americans will not spend $50,000 to $100,000 in a field where there are no jobs for Americans?

The government policy is to accept the idea of only the non exportable jobs for Americans so why should public funds be spent on fields where there are no jobs for Americans.

Far better for public funds to be spent on training auto mechanics and nurses which still offer jobs for Americans.

The House Committee on Science and Technology
June 12, 2007
As Dr. Alan Blinder, one of today’s witnesses testified, these examples seem to be only the tip of the iceberg. Dr. Blinder has estimated that more than one in four American jobs are vulnerable to offshoring. More striking is his finding that most American technical jobs in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields are amongst the most vulnerable to offshoring.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 27, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

What Jay did not go into in enough depth - given the comments here - is that the benefit from AP and IB is not just possible college credit or even knowledge of the specific subject matter being taught, it's the preparation such a difficult course gives prospective college students about the rigors of college, per se. And that's a very different thing.
This preparation is independent of the grade or exam number earned, and is also independent of other students in the class. It depends solely on how seriously the student takes the class and how diligently they approach the assignments.
That's it.
Students who take AP or IB classes and approach the work seriously graduate from college in higher numbers than those who do not take an AP or IB class, regardless of the grade or exam score earned. That's fact.
If a teacher waters down the course due to some students lagging behind the high flyers, that teacher is both stupid and ignorant. They're stupid as even the high flyers need to learn all the material as the exams are created and graded outside that classroom and cannot be altered to fit that class's circumstances. And ignorant as by watering down the curriculum they are actually harming the laggers rather than helping them.
I hope Jay updates this blog entry with the true facts at this school. Do they admit everyone who wants in or not?

Posted by: LoveIB | September 27, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

My thanks to LoveIB, just one small correction. There is lots of research showing that students who get 3, 4 or 5 on the AP exam do better in college than non AP people, and some that suggests even a 2 provides that advantage. But there is no research showing a 1 provides an advantage, no matter how hard you worked for it, but that is an average. I suspect someone who worked hard and got a 1 would still have learned more than in a regular course.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 27, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

If the main benefit of open AP classes is that students get a taste of college-level expectations (more reading, 3-hour tests, research papers) then the obvious answer is to put those features back into regular and honors classes. When I was in high school, all junior and senior level academic classes had those elements. Why not now?

Posted by: jane100000 | September 27, 2010 6:00 PM | Report abuse

For people that want a comprehensive review of AP, I recommend the book "AP- A Critical Examination of the Advanced Placement Program," Edited by Philip Sadler, et al., 2010.
Some highlights
"For high schools seeking to evaluate their AP science courses, a preponderance of AP exam scores of 1 or 2-outside of chemistry-may be interpreted to mean that the AP course in their school offered little or no benefit to students beyond regular or honors science courses." (p. 134)

"The best available research to date suggests that while AP experience may have a statistically significant positive impact on college outcomes for students who earn high scores on the AP exams, there is little such evidence for course participation alone for students earning the lowest scores on the AP exam." (p. 173) "... the positive effect of course-taking alone is zero." (p.174)
"However, the costs of offering an AP Program come disproportionately in the form of opportunity costs (the cost of what a school gives up in order to offer AP)...". (p.176)
"But evidence suggests that resources might be better spent by improving academic preparation in the earlier grades rather than expanding AP in schools where a large fraction of students are performing below grade level." (p.183) "However, the AP Program is designed to replicate college courses, not to remediate students who are not academically prepared for the rigors of college coursework." (p.183)
"There is no evidence of an independent effect of AP course-taking on college graduation for students who fail the AP exam." (p. 222)
"This may account for the evidence that a large percentage of students, particularly disadvantaged students, are receiving credit for college preparatory courses without mastering the content implied by the course title." (p.224)
"Simply putting more students into college preparatory high school courses is unlikely to have the desired impact on college readiness rates if students are not academically well prepared for those courses." (p.225)
"AP appears to offer an advantage only to students who perform well on the AP exam." (p. 265)

Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | September 27, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse

Jay, I emailed two graphs to you, one showing the exponential increase in the number of AP tests taken from 1956 to 2008 and the other showing the number of 1's through 5's awarded between 1997 and 2008. The interesting thing to note is that the number of 2's through 5's increases linearly, however, the number of 1's increases at a much faster rate particularly since 2003. In fact, between 1997 and 2008 the number of 2's through 5's increases, on average, by a factor of 7 and the number of 1's increases by a factor of 17. (Data Source: College Board website)

In 2008, 100,000 more 1's were awarded than in 2007. And this number is increasing each year.

While I applaud the increased exposure to college level work, the question that must be answered is, are the students who are receiving 1's better served by this exposure to college level material than they would be served by learning the material at a pace that matches their readiness?

The rapidly increasing number of students who are likely to receive a 1 deserve a well researched answer to this question.

Posted by: lauracarriere | September 27, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

While visiting Boston on a college visit trip last week I spoke with my cousin whose child attends Lynnfield High School. Not only is AP restricted but so are Honors courses. They require the students to apply after passing an exam to be accepted into an AP course. Here is what their school profile says:
Advanced Placement: Designed for students who excel in a subject and have demonstrated exceptional ability and motivation to do advanced level work. Students are expected to take the College Board AP exams at the end of the course.
To Participate: Students must complete an application process which includes teacher recommendations, review of past performance, and/or testing.
Honors: Designed for students with very strong academic ability, commendable motivation and strong study skills. To participate, students must complete an application process which includes teacher recommendations, review of past performance, and/or testing.

I find this unbelievably short sighted as I am so used to the MCPS open policy.


Posted by: c20878 | September 27, 2010 7:37 PM | Report abuse

Re Access
This is a correspondence I received last October from Trevor Packer, who directs the College Board's AP program. (I deleted one sentence b/c it referred to a specific school and I didn't feel that it was appropriate to name that school. Otherwise, I believe Mr. Packer's sense and College Board policy are fairly represented).

"Yes, I do believe that many schools that do not provide open access should... But other schools that have embraced open access should probably have focused on building a more effective pipeline rather than on open access. I was pleased to see that the Fordham report picked up on an important change to our equity policy, which is that access should be provided to prepared and motivated students, not all students. All students deserve such preparation and investment in their pre-AP years, but that’s very different from saying that all students should be placed in AP right now, given current mixed levels of readiness/preparation/motivation. A simplistic, but perhaps not too inaccurate, statement of the problem might be that many schools that should be providing open access, given the level of readiness among their student population, are not, whereas many schools that probably should not be providing open access are. It would be interesting if there were some research-based way to evaluate a school’s current level of academic readiness and provide a more nuanced recommendation of the sort of steps a school should be taking, tailored to its population, in relation to student enrollment in AP."

Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | September 27, 2010 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Does this stop, Jay, only when we are in our complete dotage or in the hereafter?

I will suggest an experiment:

While AP tests are calibrated and designed to maximally discriminate at the "3" (on a 4 point scale-- 1 is the minimum score everyone earns for signing in),indicating mastery at a college intro level, an experiment could be conduted in which the test is lengthened by 1/2 hour, and a large random sample of students is tested on additional and on-average easier items. That would bolster the differentiation between "2" and scores higher and scores lower. If the items are good, most of the students who scored a "3" will do very well on the additional items, and most of the students who scored a "1" on the standard AP test will fail to score a "2". And what does a "2" mean? Considerable learning at a high school level, as would be earned in rigorous high-school level course. And what does a "1" mean? Was challenged by a difficult course and FAILED to learn the material at even a high school level of proficiency.

Would you put some of your royalites and faith in this? Please do, rather than continuing to force teachers to enrich the College Board by inclusion of students, most of whom have had the opportunity to show by level of effort the previous year, that they are ready to do the serious work required for an AP course and reasonable chance to do well on the AP test.

You just keep writing the same column and keep undermining adult educator advice. There ARE, after all, students who take AP-prep courses as a last-chance opp to get ready and SHOW they are serious, even if they have not shown that in the past.

Posted by: incredulous | September 27, 2010 9:05 PM | Report abuse

As a country we're going down the drain with the fallacy that everyone is equally capable and dedicated when it comes to academics. Having unqualified kids in a class where they'll be crushed does no one a service. Either the class slows down so the capable students are penalized, or the weaker students get left behind.

In the area where America excels (professional sports), we would never tolerate having an unqualified preson on the pro or varsity team. Kids are expected to earn their spot on the team. Not everyone should be allowed to play on the varsity football team, and those who aren't prepared can really get hurt. That's why we have JV, freshmen, and club teams. But maybe we should just open it up for everyone to play on a first-come, first serve basis, then let the coaches and fans deal with the results.

If we could treat academics the way we do sports and glorify smart kids, we'd all be much better off. Where do we think innovation, entrepreneurship, and job creation comes from? Certainly not the low achievers and unmotivated. Letting them in a class they're not prepared for doesn't help.

Posted by: LukeVA | September 28, 2010 1:31 AM | Report abuse

Once again Jay uses anecdotes as evidence for his AP claims. His blog hyperlink ("even those who struggled, often are better prepared for higher education's tougher standards...") cites studies by Tom Luce (who helped W. craft No Child Left Behind, based on the so-called "Texas Miracle" that wasn't) and the College Board.

I tried to get that College Board study when Jay first wrote about it. The College Board put out a press release on the "study." I asked Jay to send it to me. But I never got it. I asked the researchers for it too, but I was told they were shopping it to peer-reviewed journals. Only later did I see that it was released by the College Board. Interestingly, one of those researchers had done previous "studies" for the College Board. Not surprisingly, those studies were favorable to College Board claims.

(Perhaps the biggest scam perpetrated by the College Board is the SAT. It measures little, if anything, except for family income. College enrollment consultants say they may as well use shoe size as the SAT score. See, "The Best Class Money Can Buy," by Matthew Quirk.)

According to the National Academy of Sciences, the "primary aim" of AP courses is "to help students achieve deep understanding of the content." But what the National Research Council found is that they "cover a a smorgasbord of topics and final examinations that devote insufficient attention to the integration of important ideas that cannot produce superior learners."

A faculty study committee at MIT says there is "a growing body of evidence" that even top AP scorers who place out of Intro courses end up "having difficulty when taking the next course."

A federal DOE study (ToolBox Revisited) found that "AP coursework did not reach the threshold of significance" in predicting college completion.

Geiser and Santelices (2004) examined more than 80,000 student applications to the University of California-Berkeley and found "the number of AP and honors-level courses taken in high school bears little or no relationship to students' later performance in college." Geiser also wrote later that "the widespread practice of 'weighting' students' high school GPAs simply for taking AP courses is not justified by the research and has had perverse consequences for both high schools and colleges."

Sadly, too many school divisions weight student GPAs just for taking AP courses. Why? They want to "look good" in the rankings, and Jay has been a major factor in this, pushing his "Challenge Index" as a measure of school quality. (Virginia requires schools to weight an AP course!!)

Students get it. Increasingly, students take AP to make themselves look good in the "high-stakes college admissions process." Some students readily admit that "you're not trying to get educated; you're trying to look good."

Belief is a powerful thing. But it is susceptible to simplicity, rigidity, and distortion. Jay's endless promotion of AP is a prime example.

Posted by: mcrockett1 | September 28, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Evelyn Nolan gave me permission to post this comment, which she sent me by email:

Bravo for your column on the average student not being able to take the ap classes. My husband and I went to school in Prince George's county in the 1960s. We were tracked, of course, because that was the policy in those days. We were both in nine f, the dumping ground. It just so happened that our English teacher decided to read us the Citadel and Oliver Twist. I had not been much of a reader until that point. Well, reading those books opened up a whole new world to me. The next three books I read were written by D.H Lawrence. When I got to high school, I started reading the Russian novels and Shakespeare, all outside of school, because I was below average and not supposed to read anything on that level. The counselor said I could not take academic classes and I should probably become a waitress when I graduated.
Every year I signed up for the academic curriculum and every year they put me in the general program, which was not supposed to go to college. . Every year I would change the schedule card to academic. I learned that the scheduling office would check the cards one time but never twice. I took some great classes-- comparative literature ,World History. I had excellent teachers and had a jolly old time writing term papers, which I would have never gotten to do if I was in the general classes. I went on to the University of Maryland and became a Prince George's teacher, for thirty years, all with my average grades and test scores. That's why your column brought tears to my eyes. I wish I could tell every educator that a student that does not get high scores on tests and has to work harder than the other students is not dumb. Thank you again. I hope someone heeds your advice.
Sincerely Evelyn Nolan
P.S. My nine f husband ended up getting straight A's in his senior year in college and being offered a Fulbright scholarship for graduate school.

Posted by: jaymathews | September 28, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

Jay, when will the reality of AP class-taking as explained in excellent detail in the entries above finally persuade you to back off this one-note theme you push in your column ad nauseum?

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | September 29, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse


The email comment from Evelyn Nolan is a fine testament to her motivation to learn, and it is a bit emotional (that was your intent, right?). But it doesn't really have much to do with AP...except for your contention that AP "challenges" students to push themselves.

But requiring students to read and to write, and to think and to question, and to discuss issues and to wrestle with controversy can happen in all kinds of classes.

And as touching as Nolan's comments are, they do not address the fact that AP is often a curriculum (pick your subject) that is "a mile wide and an inch deep." And they do not address the fact that more and more students see AP for what it really is: the preferred way to pad the transcript and get accepted into "prestigious" colleges and universities. And they do not address the fact that the College Board –– increasingly –– has little credibility (the SAT? Please.
Interested readers really should read the Mathew Quirk article. "The Best Class Money Can Buy." I read the College Board study that PSAT scores "predict" AP scores....what a gem of smoke and mirrors.).

Posted by: mcrockett1 | September 29, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

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