Failure breeds success

Students who fail an Advanced Placement exam are far more likely to succeed in college than students who never tackle AP coursework. That’s especially true for minority and low-income students. Jay Mathews cites data from the National Center for Educational Accountability in his Washington Post column: 57 percent of AP passers in Texas earn a college degree in five years, compared with 37 percent of AP flunkers and only 17 percent of students who never take an AP exam. While 8 percen t of non-AP Hispanics earn a college degree, 26 percent of AP flunkers graduate; 36 percent of black AP flunkers but only 11 percent of non-AP blacks graduate.

Students who struggle in an AP course with its college-sized reading list and flunk the college-level, three-hour final exam, I learned, are still much better off than if they had been denied a chance to take the course and the test. They have just played 72 holes with the academic equivalent of Tiger Woods, and although Tiger has beaten them, they have gained from the experience a visceral appreciation of what they are going to have to do to survive in college. That taste of academic trauma stays with them and helps them work hard enough to get their bachelor’s degree.

. . . Anglos who flunked an AP exam were twice as likely to get their degrees as Anglos who never took one. Hispanics, African American and low-income students were three times as likely to get their degrees if they at least tried AP.

Restricting access to AP classes is “educational malpractice,” Mathews writes.

I’m less impressed by the data, which doesn’t take into account the fact that students who fail the AP exam are self-selected (or school-selected) for academic ability and ambition. Still, I agree with Mathews that schools should encourage students to tackle AP classes, even if it means offering high-level AP for the best students and long-shot AP courses for mediocre students.

About Joanne