From AP classes to remedial ed

In their zeal to send all students to college, some high schools are pushing struggling students into Advanced Placement classes, writes Michele Kerr, a high school algebra teacher, in a San Jose Mercury News op-ed. Unprepared students usually fail the AP exam and end up in remedial college classes. Why not teach K-12 skills in high school, so students can take college-level classes in college?

Those who advocate “AP for all” argue that some students have a chance at passing, and that even a failing score can improve college outcomes.

. . . A National Center for Education Statistics study shows that remedial math placement halves the likelihood of a four-year degree, and remedial reading levels lower it even further. Is a year wasted in an AP course really going to improve college outcomes more than a year spent escaping remediation?

High schools often give bonus points for grades in AP classes, even when teachers give A’s and B’s to students who fail the end-of-course exam, Kerr writes.

The College Board should institute mandatory grading policies, linking the weighted course grades directly to test scores. Failure to test or a ‘1’ score should result in a loss of the AP designation; a ‘2’ score should receive a C. Only a 4 or 5 score should receive an A.

Schools would stop placing unprepared students in AP courses if failure meant lowering their grade point averages, Kerr argues. Student would refuse to take classes they have little chance of passing.

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Comments

  1. Most of this started with Jay Matthews “Challenge Index” in Newsweek for ranking “America’s Best Schools.” Though many teachers criticized his theory, Matthews argues that “the best education for the best is the best education for all.” Additionally, he cites studies that claim a student who takes a single AP class in high school – even if he doesn’t pass the class or the exam – has a 40% greater chance of finishing college. Thus, the idea is that the rigor for the student is more important than the grade. It’s certainly debatable.

    The sad reality is that too many kids and parents think they “need” the AP label on their transcript to “get into a good college.” And colleges have only perpetuated this. Arguably, for many kids the better option is dual-enrollment classes that give them associate degree credit which they can then transfer. Many colleges don’t give AP credit as easily as they accept transfer students from JuCo.

    Ultimately, it should be whatever works for the individual kid, and parents need more information that is not skewed by counselors seeking to pad stats on AP and college enrollment.

  2. Um–AP test scores often aren’t available until after grades have been issued for the semester. I don’t think that’s going to work.

  3. <<< remedial math placement halves the likelihood of a four-year degree, and remedial reading levels lower it even further.

    This formulation always raises my eyebrows. And my ire. Placing students in remedial math and reading lowers the likelihood of graduation? Cause and effect? Are we to understand that such students would have graduated in four years, no problem, had someone not maliciously placed them in remedial classes? This is nonsense. The placement is a result of the students' lack of academic preparedness. And it is that lack of preparedness that leads to a high failure rate. Remediation does not *cause* failure. It's an indicator of likelihood of failure.

    It is more accurate to stay students in remedial classes are less likely to earn a four-year degree. The solution is not to end remedial classes for students who need them. The solution is to reduce the number of students who need them.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    Who’s going to tell them they’re not likely to pass an AP class?

  5. Holy cow. What a bad, bad idea. First of all, AP grades are posted about the first week in July, after seniors have graduated and are enrolled in whatever college they are off to. At that point, an AP designation on the transcript is worthless.

    While I like to see the grades in my classes roughly correlate to how the kids do on the exam, it doesn’t happen that way for all individuals. I have some kids who do great work in class but struggle under time pressure (when was the last time you wrote three literary analysis essays, cold, in 2 hours?), so they may be 4 or 5 calibre (and end up doing extremely well in college), but end up with a 3. I have other kids who contract severe senioritis, but have talent, and do C work for me but end up with a 4 or 5 on the exam.

    And, in fact, I have had many students end up with a 2 on their AP exam and go on to earn straight A’s in college English.

    It is a problem (of Matthews’ creation) when schools place unprepared students in classes designed for exceptionally prepared students. This just doesn’t happen to be the solution.

  6. The Summit charter school, praised in “Waiting for Superman,” requires all students to take a number of AP courses — going by memory, I believe the number is six. In “Waiting for Superman,” this was portrayed as the reason Summit was superior to public Woodside High School.

  7. I went to the academic high school (private) in my city upteen years ago…we did not have AP classes…nary a one! We sent kids to Harvard and wherever they wanted to go…

    What caused the need for honors and AP classes? Was it as simple an issue as grade inflation? I am a member of the baby boom generation so don’t tell me it was competition for slots in college. That was never, ever an issue and it isn’t now either…

    Was it money? Not for teachers or school systems but whom?

    I really want to know…

  8. The issue isn’t AP vs Remedial. The AP may actually motivate success in Remedial classes – that’s what Mr. Mathews would probably suggest. Efforts at competency-based learning (ie mastery learning) may help eliminate the need for remedial classes. IMHO when my students fall too far behind, they quit (why RTI is critical) and they also need to be able to learn or recover at a pace that suits them (why competency-based learning makes sense).

  9. I wrote the op-ed.

    On the July grade issue: the CB makes a metric ton of money from unqualified kids taking the test, so they can make adjustments to get the scores out earlier, if that’s all it takes.

    But suppose the scores come out in July. So what? If the students took the test their junior year, then the scores will come in long before their college applications take place, so their grades will be finalized. If they are taking it their senior year, then the only real issue is their mid-year grades (which would be the teacher’s assessment, just as it is now). The only thing the score would be relevant for is placement–which again, is just as it is now. Even if the student failed the test, he or she wouldn’t fail the course, so it wouldn’t affect their admission.

    So there’s no reason to stop this because of the score timing.

    Of course, anyone who is bringing up the timing as a relevant issue is obviously unaware of the issue I’m raising. It’s not about when the grades come in. It’s not about kids who are worried about whether they get a 4 or a 5 because they aren’t the best testers.

    It’s about the 25% or more of the kids who are certain to fail with a 1, a huge number of whom would get a 0 if such a score were possible. It’s about the kids who can’t factor a quadratic equation but are taking an AP Calculus test. It’s about the kids who can’t read at an eighth grade level but are taking AP History or AP English tests.

    To put this in perspective, if the CB adopted this policy, I believe the number of AP tests taken each year would drop by at least a third–possibly a half. Presumably that makes it clear how utterly absurd it is to focus on the timing of the scores release.

    As an added advantage, teachers who work with competent students but grade them inaccurately (giving their “2” students As and their “5” students Cs) will be prevented from wrecking or boosting GPAs. That’s useful for equity in college admissions at the high end.

    It is more accurate to stay students in remedial classes are less likely to earn a four-year degree.

    That is, in fact, what the sentence you quoted says. Any other translation is one you invented. Certainly, in the context of the article, your interpretation is ludicrous.

    Most of this started with Jay Matthews “Challenge Index” in Newsweek for ranking “America’s Best Schools.”

    Yep. At the same time, Congress passed a law guaranteeing funds for low income students to take AP tests. So schools had a risk free way to qualify for the Challenge Index. Put the kids in a class labelled “AP” and have the feds pay for the test fees.

  10. tim-10-ber,

    I think you answered your own question. I went to the academic high school (private) in my city upteen years ago…we did not have AP classes…nary a one! We sent kids to Harvard and wherever they wanted to go…

    What caused the need for honors and AP classes?

    In the public school system, there’s a far wider range of ability and interest in academic courses than in your private, academic high school. In effect, your parents purchased a spot in a school which was (at least) equivalent to placement into the honors/AP track in a good suburban school. Depending on your high school, your courses may have been more challenging than the honors/AP track.

    I am a member of the baby boom generation so don’t tell me it was competition for slots in college. That was never, ever an issue and it isn’t now either…

    If you attend a good, suburban public school, and aren’t placed on the honors track, the colleges may have doubts about your preparation for college. They know how heterogeneous high school classes may be. At the very least, it may signal that your teachers don’t see you as an academic kid. Ironically enough, the next level down is named “college prep,” but names aren’t everything.

  11. A commenter on Jay Mathews’ site identified himself as a public HS teacher in Prince George’s County, outside DC. I forget whether he said it was a school or county policy, but ALL students are required to take at least one AP class. Usually, those kids who really don’t belong in any AP class are dumped into his AP English. He said that most kids aren’t really capable of upper-HS work, let alone AP; many are reading at a fifth or sixth grade level. They don’t belong in AP. Period.

    As was true for eighth-grade algebra, Latin, debate, pre-calc, foreign languages, chem and physics, it is true of AP classes; the course doesn’t create the better SAT/ACT scores or college success. The kids who CHOSE to take and were admitted into, such courses when they were not open to everyone were (and are) DIFFERENT from other students in regard to ABILITY, PREPARATION AND/OR MOTIVATION. The course was merely a proxy variable for the identification of the most able and motivated students. If the school can’t, or won’t, provide suitably challenging classes for all students, it’s a real indictment of the school.

  12. Cal: the essays are scored primarily by teachers after the school year ends. Surely we don’t want the ACT/Pearson scoring circus. And yes, the timing issue is certainly relevant to me, an actual AP teacher, and my actual AP students. If your kids are ending up in remedial college courses, that’s on you, not me. Mine are not. I don’t want broken what doesn’t need fixed. This is what the audit was supposed to address — and didn’t it do a fine job?

    Instead of tacking on a solution to the problem that creates more problems, why not simply get rid of what caused it in the first place?

  13. We didn’t have advanced placement when I was in high school (late 70’s), or perhaps it wasn’t offered at my high school. The issue of trying to push students into AP classes when they don’t have the background for it is asinine.

    As a result of this trend, many colleges no longer accept scores of 3 or less in order to earn college credit (in math and science, the minimum score accepted is now 4 or better).

    A student placed into remedial coursework has a very good chance of never finishing a degree or certification of any sort if they need to take two or more remedial courses, and approximately 1/3rd of entering freshmen directly from high school are required to take a remedial course (at Harvard, the rate needing remedial english is approximately 18 percent), which is sad, given that the students accepted to Harvard are supposed to be the best academically (debatable at best).

    Just another method of dumbing down coursework and exams to meet a ‘all inclusion’ type of policy.

    gah…

  14. Lightly, I’m well aware of how they are scored. They can use retired teachers, if need be, or only college professors. It’s certainly doable. But as I said, the July score date could be kept, so any concerns you have on that point are moot.

    Leaving “but I want to be the one giving them the grade!” as your only real gripe, and on that point, get in line. AP grades are being abused. I’m suggesting that abuse be stopped. Your reasons aren’t any better than Summit’s, when it comes down to it.

  15. Bill, AP was around in the late 70’s. I have an old released early 80’s Lit exam from the year before I took it that I give my kids sometimes for kicks. It’s about the same level of difficulty. I also have the essay prompts from the 70’s. I think the newer ones are written more elegantly, but it’s all the same authors, and the questions are all just basically variations on figure out the theme and support your answer.

    My classes aren’t AP Test Prep — they’re English courses. I don’t see why I shouldn’t be able to issue a grade like for any other English course I teach. The way around it, of course, is that if this absurd proposal went through, to take the AP designation off the course description, call it a weighted honors course, and just have the kids take the exam anyway. That’s how the elite private schools do it.

  16. Cardinal Fang says:

    How much would it help if colleges required students to disclose AP scores on their college applications, for AP classes completed through the junior year? An A in AP European History or AP English Language doesn’t look so impressive paired with a 1 or a 2 on the AP test.

  17. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    “AP For All” is an idiotic policy, promoted by those who pontificate about educational issues in the abstract, but have never actually spent a nanosecond teaching in a real classroom. Not everyone is intellectually inclined, and college is not for everyone. To actually meet the diverse needs of a student body, there should be comprehensive vocational education and trade school opportunities for those who would benefit from it. The elitism is tranparent: there is nothing inherently more valuable about being a doctor, lawyer or sociologist than being a plumber, electrician, mechanic or hairstylist. Society needs all those talents and services. Let’s stop trying to fit square pegs into round holes (or vice versa) at taxpayer expense. The mere fact that many “universities” offer remedial courses is proof that too many students who are not college material are going to college.

  18. Apparently, it’s not called ‘remedial’ in colleges any more–it’s called “developmental education.” This looks like another attempt to hide the truth–and lower expectations. Words mean something! They should be used precisely. If we are teaching K-12 skills and knowledge at the colleges, then we need to call that remediation–it is not developmental, unless we’re prepared to admit that education levels have been officially lowered and altered.

  19. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I’m 100% on board with Cal’s identification of a problem: sending unprepared kids into an “AP” class is either an academic death sentence for the kids, or for the class. It’s like putting junior high students through SEAL training: either the kids are going to die or the training is going to have to be changed so much as to be worthless for its original purposes.

    However, I also agree with Lightly Seasoned: it’s the teacher’s class, and the teacher should assign the grades.

    Now, the reason I think I agree with LS is that I tend to view “test preparation” as more or less interchangeable with that good old-fashioned activity “going to school for 11 years.” You don’t take AP English in order to take the test — that’s ludicrous. You take AP English because you’re more or less ready to take the test.

    Let me rephrase for clarity: The AP test isn’t something that happens after one year of class to see if that one year has gone well. It’s something that happens after 11 years of class to see if those 11 years have gone well.

    Finally, The College Board already has way too much influence in education; if they were to attempt to finagle grading control as a requirement on their exam, I would urge high school teachers everywhere to simply drop AP and instead adopt IB, which is a better program anyway.

  20. Michael — Good point.

    AP English was useful preparation for the AP English test in the sense that the books it covered (MacBeth, Hamlet, Wuthering Heights, Emma, Keats, Camus,and Shelley and Wordsworth, etc.etc. etc.) were on the AP reading list. And we had to write papers every week and whatnot.

    BUT we all went into that class after we excelled in our 11th grade American Lit Classes. And we were in the Honors 11th grade classes because we had easily handled the 10th grade work.

    AP English is just another way of signaling that a student can read, understand, and write competently about difficult books.

    If you take the kids who were reading “The Outsiders” in 11th grade English (Instead of Faulkner) and writing papers about feelings instead of Imagery and meaning, a year of AP English is not going to fix them.

  21. Finally, The College Board already has way too much influence in education; if they were to attempt to finagle grading control as a requirement on their exam, I would urge high school teachers everywhere to simply drop AP and instead adopt IB, which is a better program anyway.

    You completely misconstrue the impact of this policy, which would reduce the influence the CB has on education, not increase it.

    Currently, the CB collects checks from every tester (or the government paying on the tester’s behalf). Their influence is enormous, because they have every incentive to “bless” any class that wants to call itself AP, and no reason to turn away testers. As a result, the AP designation is one of the most influential and universal factors in college admissions. (Lightly will come in now and protest that they do quality control. Yeah, right. That’s why we have so many wholly unqualified students taking AP classes.)

    It is because the CB refuses to take action–thanks in no small part to the financial incentive that comes from thousands of test fees–that I’ve proposed this. This will dramatically reduce the CB’s influence in college admissions, and cut their income by 15-20% or more.

    Again, to any readers or commenters–if you don’t understand the degree to which this policy will reduce the number of testers, the degree to which students with fifth or eighth grade level skills are put in these courses, do their best with their limited abilities, and either skip the test or take it with no idea what’s going on, then you really don’t understand the problem and the misuse of the AP.

    If you think this policy increases the CB’s influence, and that it would do anything but vehemently oppose the policy, then the previous paragraph describes you.

    As for the IB, its history courses are repellent and in general, I find the program far less flexible and more politicized than the AP. I very much doubt it will ever win major adoption in this country, and it pleases me to say so.

  22. Michael E. Lopez says:

    OK, Cal, I can see where you’re coming from. We’re not disagreeing — at least not in the way you seem to think.

    You’re concentrating on reducing the *scope* of the CB’s influence by making it less attractive for schools to sign up. I was talking about the *degree* of control once the school signs up. I’m a bit more pessimistic, I think, about schools’ willingness to stop enrolling kids now that AP-enrollment has become something of a holy grail-cum-bragging point in high school evaluations and reputations — quite separate from the CI. I also think it’s bordering on the ludicrous to ask a private organization to adopt a policy guaranteed to undermine its profit margins. But I don’t doubt that the policy, if enacted, would probably have to some degree or another the effect that you claim.

    Now, like you, I certainly see the value in making high schools face the reality of their folly. But you can’t make the CB do anything it doesn’t really want to do. What you can do is make school boards adopt policies about AP tests. Now what would such a policy look like, if it were to accomplish the same sort of things that your proposal does without undermining teacher autonomy?

    The problem, of course, is the incentives: the College Board gets money and high schools get “prestige” out of the current set-up. The people who get screwed here (unprepared students) have no decision-making authority whatsoever, and often have no skin in the game thanks to fee waivers and reductions. No one has incentives to change. So you can either change the incentives, or you can use the existing incentives.

    One way to change the incentives is to have school districts demand contractual refund of testing fees for students who don’t pass. Why would a school board do this? Money! Would the CB just pack up its ball and go home? Unlikely; the schools are really their only markets. This is a case where there’s effectively a customer-side monopoly. But this WOULD give the College Board an incentive to audit more carefully and extensively. They’ve got money in the game now, too.

    Another way to approach this would be for states and/or school boards to demand that any published or transmitted data about a school’s AP enrollment be accompanied by its scores report. Now, third parties could still publish the data distinctly (there would be a 1st Amendment problem otherwise) but it might encourage people compiling the data to think about what they’re doing a little more. This would give a high school the incentive to make sure that its passing rate wasn’t ridiculously low. This is a top-down political approach, and it’s hardly a cure-all. It’s at best a breath of wind in the sails, a small alteration in the incentives facing the school. If we’re going to assume that parents can wield this sort of political clout, we might as well entertain the idea of a pre-test for AP enrollment, too.

    I’m not saying these are good solutions. I’m not even advocating them. I’m saying that when the problem is incentives, the solution has to take them into account. Whatever action is going to be asked of someone, it has to be something that they’re going to “want” (in a loose sense of the word) to do. Otherwise you will find that there’s always a workaround.

    I should also mention that I’m only concerned about public schools: I don’t mind private schools doing whatever they want.

  23. Cardinal Fang says:

    Cal wants to get unprepared students out of AP classes. But her policy would only get unprepared freshmen, sophomores and juniors out of AP classes, since senior grades don’t matter for college admission. What percentage of AP classes are taken by unprepared underclassmen? Is that percentage high enough to make a difference? Wouldn’t there still be far too many unprepared seniors in AP classes?

    Cal also assumes that an unprepared student would be better off in a lower-level class than an AP class for which she wasn’t ready. I agree that this should be true, but I’m not at all sure that it is true, especially for AP classes in the humanities. Imagine a student in AP English Literature. She has to read real literature, and write essays every week. She’s not very good at those things, but she’s still better off writing every week than she would be reading four paragraphs of some drivel and doing an art project, or whatever cockamamie watered down material is done in regular level English classes. Granted, she would be even better off with a rigorous English class aimed at her level, but often that’s not one of the choices on offer.

    It’s a mystery to me how a student could pass an AP Calculus AB class, then get a 1 on the test. A quarter of Calculus AB test takers get a 1. Maybe a lot of those students are forced to take the test, but just don’t care about it and don’t even try. If they are seniors and aren’t trying to get advanced placement in Calculus, their test results don’t matter.

  24. But you can’t make the CB do anything it doesn’t really want to do.

    Now you’re talking. But of course, the UCs forced the college board to change the SAT–well, more accurately, the UCs bought off the College Board by trading. The CB would dump the analogies and QCs; in exchange, the UC would demand one test that incorporated reading, math, and writing (something that had never been mentioned in the original UC “concerns” about the SAT). This allowed the CB to make a ton of money while pretending to respond to a UC requirement.

    The best way to get to the CB is to create a furor about the basic fraud that goes on in AP “courses” throughout the country, and the misuse of public funds, paying for AP tests for wholly unqualified students. The best way to do that, in my opinion, is to show how many AP students are going into remedial classes. Increased focus on remediation is ultimately going to play a big role in this–remediation is becoming an increasingly important public policy issue (as you can tell from Joanne’s posts).

    And of course, we’ll have to trade the CB something. My pick: currently, the CB gives SAT tests for free. But low income students get much more bang for the buck out of SAT tests than they ever get out of AP tests. So instead of giving reduced rates on AP and SAT tests for free, the government could start paying the full ride for two SAT tests for low income students. That way the CB could recoup some of the costs.

    All of this is, of course, blue-skying. But that’s the path by which I think change can be achieved. Create a public furor over the fraudulent use of AP by the schools (not the CB) and pressure the CB to change in order to prevent fraud. You can do thta on the way in or the way out. The way in is politically unacceptable, so the way out it will have to be. (that is, linking scores to grades.)

    Your method–state education departments and school boards–aren’t going to work. States and school boards are the chief instigators of the fraud, second only to the schools themselves. No, the best way is to make the informtaion public, get congress and state legislators to start squawking about wasted money, from test fees to wasted high school years, to expensive remediation, to defaulted college loans.

    I’m saying that when the problem is incentives, the solution has to take them into account.

    Um, yeah. My solution is all about the incentives. Or didn’t you notice?

    What percentage of AP classes are taken by unprepared underclassmen? Is that percentage high enough to make a difference? Wouldn’t there still be far too many unprepared seniors in AP classes?

    Junior year gets wiped out. That’s close to half the AP tests taken. As for seniors, at the very least it wouldn’t be used in college admission, and since it wouldn’t be used in college admission, unqualified seniors would have little motive to take the course. Remember, too, that if a senior took the course but didn’t take the test, the highest grade possible is a C–and that could be enforced at the school level.

    The worst abusers are the schools who have an entire slate of AP courses for two years (like Summit). By wiping out junior year, it makes college admissions far more difficult to game.

    Cal also assumes that an unprepared student would be better off in a lower-level class than an AP class for which she wasn’t ready.

    It’s not an assumption. Until schools start acknowledging actual student ability, and teach them based on what they need to know, it’s uncertain that any changes will actually benefit the unprepared student. But at least that student won’t be lied to, and the schools won’t be able to lie about their unprepared students.

    It’s a mystery to me how a student could pass an AP Calculus AB class, then get a 1 on the test.

    Really? It hasn’t occurred to you that the teachers are fundamentally committing fraud? How do you suppose this happens? The teachers lie about what they teach or what they use as a passing grade. They do so with the best intentions, and don’t really think of it as lying, but that’s what it is.

    Unless things have changed at Summit, for example, the students take AP US History for three semesters. They don’t take the test until the end of their senior year. The students take three semesters of US History and one semester of AP Gov. (this was true through 2007, at least, as I tutored a student during this time). And Summit isn’t a particularly terrible offender, as its top students aren’t spectacular, but certainly qualified to take AP. The teachers are just expanding the grade scale to avoid flunking the unqualified. At many urban schools, the AP label is just that–a label. The best kids in the class are reading or calculating at an eighth grade level.

    Or take another example–about five years ago, there was a big article in the Post about the very first kids ever to pass the AP English test. Two of them. First time. Think they were the first kids to get an A?

    I can’t even really see how you’d ask that question.Obviously, the teachers have been complicit.

  25. Obviously, the teachers have been complicit.

    Not only teachers. I know of administrators who change student grades. There was a scandal about this at my local high school (where I grew up, not where I work now) and I’ll bet it is more common than generally believed.

    At the middle school level I know of several principals who routinely changed failing grades to passing grades, over teacher protests.

  26. Cardinal Fang says:

    For those interested, the summary of 2010 test takers and grades, with many cross-tabs, is here: http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/ap/exgrd_sum/2010.html

    Those who like to grovel around data will find much of interest. For example, a lot of the quantitative tests (Biology, Calculus AB, Macro, Micro, Environmental Science) have a bimodal test score distribution, with one peak at 3 or 4, and another peak at 1. That suggests one group of test takers who are prepared and whose scores display a normal distribution, and a second group of test takers who know nothing of the subject and get 1s.

    The popular humanities tests have a different score distribution. Most people get 2s and 3s, suggesting that either the graders have pity and don’t give 1s, or the test takers who don’t pass are not totally unprepared, but are close to passing.

  27. I generally agree with Cardinal’s evaluation, except to caution that at the national level it covers the abuses committed by states like Florida.

    I’d also point out that for African Americans, the number of 1s received outnumber the scores in every category but two major ones (the English tests, where the 2s just barely outnumber the 1s) and some fringe tests (Japanese, music theory, studio art). Overall, African Americans get twice as many 1 scores as their next highest score (which is 2).

    The same stats are generally true for Hispanics, once you remove Spanish Lang and Spanish Lit, which distort their results.

    Whites and Asians have generally reasonable distributions.

  28. Cardinal Fang says:

    As Cal points out, the state-by-state results are illuminating. In New Jersey, the most common grade is 4, and the second most common is 5. In Alabama, the most common grade is 1, and the next most common is 2.

  29. Michael: IB is quite expensive and far more prescriptive than AP. It’s also not in sync with the new common core standards for English. For AP, the only thing you pay for is the test. They’re not really equivalent.

    Deidre: there is no AP reading list for either English test. But you’re right — it is all about mastery of complex texts, and I completely agree that one year isn’t going to fix inadequate instruction in previous years. I don’t want “ringers” — there are lots of kids who are miracle 3’s (but alas, usually get the 2) who benefit greatly from course. There’s actually a very strong correlation between verbal PSAT/PLAN scores and success on the English AP. It’s really the most reliable way to predict.

    Cal: I think I’ve stated quite the opposite about CB quality control in terms of how actual courses are taught. I don’t even remember what’s on my approved syllabus anymore.

    Cardinal: there are at least four “graders” for any English test. The machine scores the multiple choice, and each of the three essays is scored by a different person (who spends a week scoring about a 1000 of that question) — so you’d need three people and a machine all having pity for one tester. Also, one of the checks they do is that the multiple choice portion and essay portion shouldn’t be too far off from each other — a tester shouldn’t be getting 20% of the mc portion correct and then scoring 8’s on the essays — something like that would get flagged. A qualifying score of 3 is generally achieved with 55% of the mc correct and triple 5’s (“adequate/uneven”) on the essay section (the holy grail high score is a 9). The average essay scores every year are usually around a 4, with the open prompt on the Lit exam usually a little better. The Lang exam is still shaking out the synthesis essay, but the lowest average score is usually the rhetorical analysis prompt.

  30. Why, oh why, does this finding surprise anyone?

  31. Cardinal Fang says:

    Lightly, I didn’t make myself clear, sorry. I meant not that some graders in the humanities would take pity on a particular student, but that all graders in the humanities perhaps tend to be more lenient for students who appeared to be making a valiant, yet incompetent, effort. Or perhaps the people who set up the grading rubric for a 2 in humanities were not very demanding– whereas to even get a 2 for Biology or Calculus requires that the student know some biology or calculus, maybe a student can get a 2 on English Language if they write some vaguely sentence-like objects on the page.

    I don’t *know* the explanation for the difference in score profiles between the humanities tests and the quantitative or science tests, but as I mentioned, there is one. Most of the science/math tests have bimodal scores, and most of the humanities tests have one peak at 2 or 3.

  32. Cardinal Fang says:

    Lightly Seasoned says, ” there are lots of kids who are miracle 3?s (but alas, usually get the 2) who benefit greatly from the course,” the course in her case being English. So the issue is, would those students be better off in a class at a lower level? Would the lower level class make them less likely to need remediation? Do most of the 2-getters end up needing to take a remedial class?

    The situation is clearer for math. Fully a third of AB Calculus takers get a 1. Those students should have been in a different math class, a class where they would learn some math. If a student can’t write the equation of a line, he’s wasting his time studying calculus.

  33. Cardinal, back before all this began, in the early-mid 90s, the CB was under considerable pressure to reduce the achievement gap. They changed the scoring of all the humanities tests so that it was possible to get a 5 even if the student failed the multiple choice section by weighting the essays heavily. This would advantage girls and minorities, as it was possible to give a pity grade to the essay and bring it closer to a passing score.

    In other words, yeah, I think that students are getting a “2” based on their ability to write one barely decent essay that requires no outside knowledge but an opinion. I doubt they learned much from the course itself.

    While I’m not terribly pleased with the abuse of the extra GPA point, I don’t think that’s a fixable problem. I figure most students will abandon the course if the highest grade they could get is a C.

    So the issue is, would those students be better off in a class at a lower level? Would the lower level class make them less likely to need remediation? Do most of the 2-getters end up needing to take a remedial class?

    If you told students that they could study up on the SAT writing test, take a basic composition course, learn how to write a decent 5 paragraph essay, and test out of remediation without taking an AP course and reading a bunch of garbage they could care less about, which do you think they’d take?

    If you actually gave students a curricular choice, and the schools offered both courses, I suspect many students would avoid AP even without my grade policy.

  34. Cardinal Fang says:

    I think they might still take an AP course because their parents want them to have a strong-looking high school record for college admission purposes, and the magic AP before the course title makes the record look stronger. And each of those marginal students is convinced they won’t need remediation.

    Cal, your plan calls for students to take a basic composition course. Isn’t that exactly what AP English Language is supposed to be? If they can’t avoid remediation by taking AP English Language, how would they avoid remediation by taking a different composition course?

  35. Cardinal, my “plan” is no such thing. I’m only talking about a policy change. I was just talking about the AP Eng courses because you brought them up. Different from my op ed.

    But no, AP Lang and Comp is not a “basic comp course”. It requires a lot of reading and rhetoric analysis that wouldn’t be part of a basic com course.

    You asked if students aren’t better off for taking it. I’m saying that students who are getting 2s based on the pity grades would a) probably choose a basic composition course over AP and b) be better off for it, with a demonstrable achievement that would get them out of remedial English. The ideal course would be the CSU offering, which should be part of every high school’s curriculum for students who aren’t ready for AP.

  36. I think they might still take an AP course because their parents want them to have a strong-looking high school record for college admission purposes, and the magic AP before the course title makes the record look stronger. And each of those marginal students is convinced they won’t need remediation. Cal, your plan calls for students to take a basic composition course. Isn’t that exactly what AP English Language is supposed to be? If they can’t avoid remediation by taking AP English Language, how would they avoid remediation by taking a different composition course?

  37. I just checked back. Amazing number of comments. 36 so far! Yes, this issue matters a lot–to a lot of us. Thanks for posting it.

  38. Cardinal Fang says:

    Cal, although we’ve disagreed in the past, I don’t disagree with you now. I was just trying to understand exactly what the problem is. Thanks for expanding on your ideas here, and it’s really cool that you wrote the Merc editorial.

    Do we have any information about whether these Summit students actually end up needing remediation, once they get in college? I bet Summit knows, but maybe they aren’t telling.

  39. Cardinal, I didn’t take your posts as disagreement. They were very thoughtful, regardless of whether they agreed or not, but I could see where you were going. I was just making sure I hadn’t conflated the AP English scoring issue with my op ed recommendation.

    I know a number of Summit parents who tell me that yes, many Summit students end up in remediation (in early cases, going straight from AP Calc to remediation at a community college). I have no reason to doubt their word and statistically, Summit test scores make it a near certainty. But Summit, like most schools, doesn’t collect that info.

    I want to be clear that I’m not accusing Summit of being a bad school. When I was at Stanford’s ed program, a number of my classmates student taught there, and some of them are now teaching there. They mean well and are passionate and dedicated.

    But the idea tht Summit is doing a better job of educating students just doesn’t hold up. Selection bias gives Summit a better population, and their metrics are slightly better than the surrounding schools for the two demographics (Hispanics and whites). But only slightly–nothing extraordinary, and nothing that can’t be explained by motivated parents and attrition.

  40. Cardinal Fang says:

    One of my son’s friends was in the inaugural class at Summit. I remember his mother proudly saying that every student at Summit would be taking all APs as a senior. Buuut wait a minute, I said, that makes no sense. Some of them won’t be qualified for calculus by their senior year.

    I didn’t think AP for all was a good idea then, and I still don’t. My son’s friend was fine; he’s now a senior at a top ranked liberal arts school. He would have succeeded at any school, though, and we now see that as expected, some of his classmates did not fare as well.

  41. Um. OK, Cardinal. Have you bothered to look at the scoring guide before making your comment about what would make a passing essay? Because it’s pretty clear that a random sentence or two earns a 0. I suspect the answer is that most students have had some training in English — while it is possible not to be exposed to the calc/physics etc. on the exams at all. So, many students might have enough reading and comp skills to eke out a very low 2. And depending on the kid, that could be learning nothing in the course at all or making huge strides.

    FWIW, none of my AP students, even those who I’m not sure will make the 3, end up in remedial English in college (and yes, we track such things). Most of my 2’s end up sailing through freshman comp with easy A’s. (They could be high 2’s vs. low 2’s, but that data isn’t kept.) My experience doesn’t seem to be unusual based on my conversations with other AP English teachers. There is a type of kid who does benefit from being in slightly over her head — not every kid, certainly. That’s why the AP for All thing is such a disaster — no common sense.

    AP does struggle when faced with competition. Given the choice between a laid back class in the dual credit program and me flogging their fannies through AP, most kids choose the easy dual credit. It’s a specific type of kid who signs up for AP English — usually they’ve got a competitive streak.

  42. Roger Sweeny says:

    FWIW, none of my AP students, even those who I’m not sure will make the 3, end up in remedial English in college (and yes, we track such things).

    How do you do that? My high school has no idea what happens to anyone after they get their diploma.

  43. Michael E. Lopez says:

    That’s a really good question, Sweeny. How *do* they do that? Assuming it’s some sort of voluntary feedback form, what’s the participation rate? Is it verified?

  44. Roger: we send out surveys the year after graduation and about every 5 years after that. About 85% participation rate (drops a bit after 10 or 15 years). No, we don’t verify — just doing the surveys is stretching our staffing. I also do a lot of informal tracking — most of my AP kids keep in touch or I end up with younger siblings and ask parents at conferences (or in the grocery store, at Starbucks, etc.). We’re a tight community — and our admin likes data.

    Regardless, I work in a top suburban school and teach a self-selected group of excellent students in AP. I’d be shocked if any of them did end up in remedial English.

  45. Michael E. Lopez says:

    LS — I believe that it’s true that you don’t have any students who end up in remedial English classes. I’ve little doubt of that whatsoever, knowing what a good dedicated honors teacher can pull off once they get settled.

    But the feedback forms are going to be self-selecting. Who’s going to want to put down that they were in remedial English?

    I’m sure the data is good for a whole host of things, but it can’t be good for things that are going to be correlated with the participation rate.

  46. Michael: Well, that may be true. I’m just happy we bother to get the data at all, flawed as it may be. It’s useful when we plan changes. Yes, we do all dread the 130 slide ppt presentation of it we get every August :).

  47. I just checked back again–47 comments! Very impressive. Why so many comments–the most by far of any recent story reported by Joanne?
    What does this interest in this story tell us?

    My guess…. it’s the pull of equity and excellence. Can they really and actually coexist on a large scale? While people speak about equity and excellence in the same breath, it’s a lot easier to talk about than to do it. Putting kids into AP classes — does it actually promote equity or excellence. The jury is far out on this one. Thus, the continuing interest in this story!

Trackbacks

  1. […] A sad state of affairs is reported in Joanne Jacobs’ blog–with many many comments this holiday season. http://www.joannejacobs.com/2010/12/from-ap-classes-to-remedial-ed/comment-page-1/#comment-148957  […]