More students are taking Advanced Placement tests — and the failure rate is climbing, reports USA Today.
The findings about the failure rates raise questions about whether schools are pushing millions of students into AP courses without adequate preparation — and whether a race for higher standards means schools are not training enough teachers to deliver the high-level material.
According to USA Today, 41.5 percent of AP test takers earned a failing score of 1 or 2, up from 36.5 percent in 1999. In the South, nearly half failed.
Even with the higher failure rate, the higher number of test takers means that more students are passing.
The WashPost’s Jay Mathews, a big AP booster, argues that students benefit from the challenge of AP courses, even if they don’t do well enough on the exam to earn college credit.
Grades of 1 or 2 are said to be failing, as the USA Today stories note, but research shows a grade of 2 may have unexpected benefits. A study of a very large sample of students in Texas shows that even students with relatively low achievement levels on other standardized tests did better in college if they had a 2 on an AP exam than similar students did who did not take AP.
Are too many students taking AP courses without the skills to pass? I worry that AP classes will be simplified for weaker students, cheating students who are prepared to do the work. If teachers can hold the line, then I don’t worry that more students are trying something that’s a bit too hard and falling short.