‘Tis better to have tried an AP class and failed the exam than never to have tried at all, argues Jay Mathews. His Challenge Index includes schools with high AP test participation rates but very low passing rates. So he’s added a “Catching Up list for high schools that use AP as shock treatment for impoverished students who have been in the academic doldrums.”
On this new list are 29 schools with AP test participation rates high enough to qualify for the Newsweek list but with test passing rates under 10 percent.
. . . (Administrators) have tried raising achievement slowly with remedial education. It didn’t work, in part because the teachers and students had no worthy goal to shoot for. So they have made the AP test their benchmark, and in preparing for it hope to give low- performing students the strenuous academic exercise they need for college. Few pass the three-hour AP exams, so few get college credit. So what? They aren’t in college yet. This way they have a chance to accustom themselves to the foot-high reading assignments and torturous exams they will encounter in college.
A new Texas study shows graduates “who got a failing grade of 2 on the 5-point AP test — did significantly better in college than did similarly low- performing, low-income students who did not take AP,” Mathews writes.
Pushing low performers into AP classes may work at a small, catch-up school where teachers are prepared for the challenge. At a large school with a wide range of performance levels, it puts enormous pressure on AP teachers to teach both prepared and unprepared students.