Proud to fail

Nearly one third of students at Carver High, a very low-performing New Orleans school, took AP classes last year. Despite extra tutoring, restaurant dinners, a Tulane field trip , a chauffered limo ride to the test and the promise of $300 for a passing score, all failed the AP exam.

“For most of them, just in my opinion, it boosted their morale,” Assistant Principal Toyia Washington said. “They realized they were capable of doing something outside the box, whereas everything is usually inside the box.”

Of 158 students enrolled in AdvanceNOLA‘s AP classes last year at New Orleans high schools, only three passed an AP exam.

Students shouldn’t feel proud to fail, writes Darren at Right on the Left Coast.

A bunch of students took a class for which they were ill-prepared, and failed miserably to achieve even minimal standards in the course. That sounds like the very definition of in the box activities for this assistant principal and her school. 

“Passing is not the only or even the primary goal” of AdvanceNOLA’s AP program, reports the Times-Picayne.  

AdvanceNOLA students receive extra tutoring and tours of the Tulane University campus. They are treated to Saturday restaurant dinners and are chauffeured to the AP exam in limousines.

Students receive $300 from the program for getting a score of at least 3 out of 5 on an exam — the minimum needed to receive college credit — and teachers also receive $300 for each student who passes.

Do students learn that they can exceed expectations? Not really, writes Darren. They learn that they’ll be praised for failure, “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

There’s some evidence that students who take AP classes but fail the exam outperform similar students who who take easier classes. But that comes from programs that prepare some students to pass. If nobody’s passing, is it really an AP-level class?

AdvanceNOLA is pulling out of Carver and another low-performing high school.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Buttresses E.D. Hirsch’s thesis that, without a huge fund of core knowledge built into a brain, no high-level academic performance can occur. You can’t expect kids who’ve had ten years of low-content education (at school AND home) to suddenly start performing like typical AP students. These kids don’t need limo rides and bribes, they need background knowledge so that they have a chance of grasping the lectures and readings. It’s like expecting kids who’ve learned a hundred words of German to write fluent German essays.

  2. Belinda Gomez says:

    So will the kids and teachers give the money back? This is insane. Why not have them all take the LSATs? They’ll fail, but their self-esteem should be even higher.

  3. So, do the people who were protesting my article and talking about July scores see what I’m talking about now?

  4. The promotion of self-esteem independent of any actual accomplishment undermines students at all levels.

  5. tim-10-ber says:

    And we wonder by the achievement gap continues? I agree with Ben F’s comments…we need to change the way we educate the kids that come to school without the basic knowledge so by the time they are ready for high school maybe they will excel at AP…

    My question is if we have known for years (decades?) that many kids come to school without the core knowledge needed to excel when will the changes be made? Seems logical to me to make them but completely illogical to have not done them…yet.

  6. All the seniors at my daughters high school take A.P. English. Now to preface all of this, I have four girls and I have a realistic view of their abilities, I think that their school is doing a good job, and I am a middle school science teacher myself.

    My daughter is an A.P. student. She studied like crazy. She knew the material. I was very ready for the test myself after listening to hours of history and English review. Upon getting her scores in July, my daughter was devastated. Her scores were low. I know for a fact that she is not a good test taker. Her scores did not reflect her knowledge of the material. But she was embarrassed, disappointment, and knew that she was a loser and stupid. It took weeks for me to calm her down and get her off of the cliff. This year she is a freshman at college and is doing excellently. By the end of the year she will be a junior due to her college now credits. I encourage students to take A.P. if it is to learn. They should not take the classes to just take the test. The test is a one day picture of of what they know. Having said all of this, I am a fervent believer that not all students should take A.P. classes due to their lack of background knowledge, their poor study skills, or lack of parental help. It takes a whole family to study for these tests and parents who understand that not passing them when you have done your best is not the end of the world. It is up to parents to choose the course for their students and not the schools. A.P. can become a joke if all of the students are in it and the curriculum needs to be watered down to fit the needs of the masses. Having taught at the University level, I find that the students are entitled and enabled and unwilling to step up to rigor. We are building a generation of whiners that demand good grades even when they do not perform. I think that is the essential question we educators need to ask ourselves and the students parents. Why do we expect an A if we do not do what it takes to really get an A. The response that I get from administration and parents is that we cannot hurt their psyche. But in the end they are hurt more by not being prepared for working hard in their real lives, with unreal expectations.

    Lucky for me I have demanded that my children see the real world, and accept their flaws and work to find solutions to how to work around them. I am proud to say all of them interact with their teachers, get extra tutoring, and study. Plus, they have found self worth beyond tests and grades. I remind them daily that we expect you to do your best but it is the average man that runs the world effectively.

    A.P. is terrific for the rigor, interchange, and self satisfaction of a job well done. Not for the test itself.

  7. A minor quibble for marilyn: it doesn’t take an entire family to study for an AP exam. I took two in the ’60’s, and I’m not sure my parents were even aware of it. My daughter took five in 2002, and while we were aware of them we took no role in preparing for them. Some students may want and need parental coaching/encouragement, but many do not.

  8. tim-10-ber says:

    @ marilyn — very well said…”Having taught at the University level, I find that the students are entitled and enabled and unwilling to step up to rigor. We are building a generation of whiners that demand good grades even when they do not perform. I think that is the essential question we educators need to ask ourselves and the students parents. Why do we expect an A if we do not do what it takes to really get an A. The response that I get from administration and parents is that we cannot hurt their psyche. But in the end they are hurt more by not being prepared for working hard in their real lives, with unreal expectations.”

    so…as a parent I ask…when do educators start demanding real work for a real grade…the kids’ self esteem will be harmed far worse by getting something for nothing…when they get to the real world they will fail miserably…education is and should be their real world…it is their time and place/time to learn, to work hard, have real goals to achieve and surpass and move forward while they have good (hopefully) help and encouragement from teachers, peers and parents (hopefully)…

    We so need educators to demand real work of their students…so many don’t…very sad…especially when I hear a former administrator state numerous time that he would give a good grade for effort…oh the discussions/arguments we had as to why that is so harmful…

    Maybe another question is what do educators have to do to get their administrators to allow them to give real grades for real work or lack thereof? what can parents do to help?

  9. Ben F is right about the content issue; ten years of content-free, mastery-free, artsy-crafty, touchy-feely groupwork is not adequate preparation for AP classes; not for anyone and especially not for disadvantaged kids. I don’t agree with Marilyn about parent involvement in AP prep; my husband and I did pretty much nothing with any of our kids and they all started college as full sophomores because of their AP credits, which were a combination of calc, sciences, English, Spanish (we don’t speak), histories, econ, and other humanities. My sophomore daughter walked into the AP English language exam completely COLD; hadn’t taken the class, hadn’t looked at a prep book, hadn’t studied at home and got a 4. They came out of HS from the early 90s to early 00s.
    However, it took 10 years of academic work to get to that point, and I did do a lot of red-pencilling written work ; most of the teachers didn’t do much grammar correction, even in the “top” schools the kids attended. If kids don’t have the preparation and the motrivation, they don’t belong in AP; they should be taking HS-level classes. Telling kids they should be proud of failing is beyond appalling; especially since the schools and kids have been praising poor work for 10-12 years.

    Obi is right about the self-esteem nonsense; it’s just another in a long line of illustrations of the fact that the ed world’s complete cluelessness about correlation and causation. Decades ago, a study found that high-achieving kids usually had high self-esteem. The ed world immediately jumped to the conclusion that high self-esteem caused high achievement; hence the situation we’ve had for the last decades. It couldn’t really have been the opposite, right?

  10. Many of you are making this about touchy feely issues, like if the kids just worked hard enough instead of being fed nonsense about self-esteem, they would have passed. This is profoundly off base. The issue is that these kids will apply to college with As on their transcript for AP courses, when most of them probably read at a fifth grade level.

    And they are the norm in most majority minority schools who participate in Jay Mathew’s Challenge Index.

  11. If I’m a couch potato, wouldn’t it make more sense for me to participate in a 5k training program rather than one attempting to prep me to run a marathon? Then after I successfully complete a 5k, I can work my way up to a 10k, then a half-marathon, and maybe *THEN* a full marathon.

    Let’s get these kids doing high school level work before worrying about trying to get them to pass the AP exam…

  12. As a college consultant and test prep coach, I find that when students are poorly prepared in high school, you cannot expect them to have much success on the AP, SAT or ACT tests, let alone in college. Students need to graduate from high school with the core knowledge and tools that will enable them to succeed in college.
    When they are missing these skills, they are being set up for failure and courses in remediation. No Limo rides or dinners out are going to change things. That money should go into better teaching.

    College Direction
    Denver, Colorado

  13. Gracias for the link, Joanne.

  14. Forget about the AP tests… I’m just appalled that the school is doling out good money for limo rides, restaurant dinners, and a $3000 bounty for passing scores.
    Fiscal irresponsibility anyone?

  15. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Cal Saith:

    Many of you are making this about touchy feely issues, like if the kids just worked hard enough instead of being fed nonsense about self-esteem, they would have passed. This is profoundly off base. The issue is that these kids will apply to college with As on their transcript for AP courses, when most of them probably read at a fifth grade level.

    With all respect, Cal, and you know I love your posts, you’re only half right. The issue isn’t that their applying to colleges with A’s on their transcript for AP courses when they read at a fifth grade level. That’s an issue (and one primarily of concern to colleges) but it’s not the issue.

    THE issue is that they read at a fifth grade level when they are in 11th and 12th grade, that they’re essentially illiterate at age 17, long after the prime window for developing immersive fluency with the written word has passed.

    Discussions as to the cause of this may range over curricular content, pedagogy, the role of society and parents, school funding, and teacher quality — but the pressing issue is illiteracy.

    The inaccuracy and inapplicability of grades and the subversion of the AP label certainly makes it more difficult for us to address what is actually the issue, and so is deserving of discussion because it helps us to have good diagnostic tools, and it surely causes a headache for both post-secondary educators/administrators and the College Board, but it’s not really the central issue.

    So with that said, I can understand why people want to talk about the “touchy-feely” stuff: they feel that certain pedagogical approaches are directly responsible for this illiteracy.

  16. cranberry says:

    I am absolutely not concerned by any false illusions about students’ capabilities which an A grade on an AP course supposedly builds in college admissions officers. Come now. Be realistic. The colleges with competitive admissions have people on staff who know the difference between Stuyvesant and Carver High. They receive the students’ SAT or ACT scores. They receive recommendations and application essays.

    Placing all seniors in AP courses doesn’t mean it’s an appropriate placement for all the students, and the colleges know that. There isn’t any need to try to force the College Board to force the schools to insititute mandatory grading policies. It is factored in. Admission to colleges these days isn’t predicated on grades or test scores. The colleges know that an A in an AP course at Stuyvesant High connotes a much higher level of academic prowess than an A at Carver High. The students taking AP courses in innner-city schools who receive As are accepted on the basis of those grades because the As signal that those students are the most capable students at that school.

    It would be more effective, and easier (if still impossible) to put pressure on Newsweek to factor AP passing rates into the best schools rating, than to fantasize that the College Board would be able to dictate thousands of high schools’ grading policy.

  17. cranberry says:

    I haven’t seen anyone on this thread, or the “AP to remediation” thread, cite an example of an existing curriculum for non-AP students. There’s a lot of hand-waving about “more appropriate coursework,” etc, but when it comes down to brass tacks, are there any effective, established curricula for students who aren’t ready for AP work? I’m not aware of any curriculum which covers a large range of courses, with study guides and set subject matter, monitored by a significant, independently graded exam at the end of the year.

    If there were one, that could lead to fruitful discussions. In my opinion, there isn’t one. I’ve seen enough teachers willing to argue for really low-level summer reading choices to think that, as much as kids with 5th grade skills may not belong in AP, it may be arguably better than the alternative.

  18. Belinda Gomez says:

    I also really like how “taking an AP class” is equated with other luxuries that these poor kids will presumably never get to do–eat in a restaurant, ride in a limo, etc. If you pass all your AP classes, you have a better shot at those things.

  19. I don’t know if either of these two curricula come with an externally-graded final exam, but I think that either Core Knowledge or Susan Wise Bauer’s classical curriculum (plus Singapore Math) would be light years better than what is currently being provided, not just in inner-city schools but in the “top” schools in the leafy suburbs that my kids attended. I know the classical curriculum is divided into three, 4-year cycles, beginning at grades 1, 5 and 9. Each cycle covers one fourth of the ancient-to-modern timeline, with literature aligning with the history and science disciplines coordinating. It also includes phonics, grammar, composition and even geography(!).

    To me, it would make far more sense and help the kids far more, if something of this sort was offered, even if the typical ninth-grade knowledge and skills mean that current ninth-graders should be given the fifth-grade curriculum (as is likely in many/most urban schools). Reading, grammar and composition would probably have to start with even earlier material. Even if that means that they “graduate from HS” with real eighth-grade knowledge and skills, it would be far better than the current situation. If younger kids were started with that, perhaps they would start ninth-grade ready to do ninth-grade work and eventually to AP level.

    Does anyone know about testing materials for the classical curriculum?

  20. Mark Roulo says:

    … when it comes down to brass tacks, are there any effective, established curricula for students who aren’t ready for AP work?

    Wouldn’t that be the *standard* high school curriculum for the given grade level? For a senior who had taken math for three years (and learned it), the sequence would have been: Algebra (freshman year), Geometry (sophomore year), Algebra II (junior year). Senior year would then be trigonometry or pre-calculus.

    But the students who had not taken trigonometry (or pre-calc) would not be expected to do well in Calculus. Nor would the students who had done poorly in the earlier math classes (especially the algebra classes).

    I’d like to think that there are non-AP versions of classes like English/Literature, History, Math, etc.

    Or have I misunderstood the question?

  21. Come now. Be realistic. The colleges with competitive admissions have people on staff who know the difference between Stuyvesant and Carver High.

    Oh, please. Do you really think I’m arguing that colleges don’t know the difference?

    Have you heard of affirmative action bans? Are you aware that public universities are overtly trying to get around them? Do you know that their primary means of doing this is to deemphasize test scores in favor of grades and “difficulty” of curriculum?

    If all of that is news to you, then think about that aspect of it and you won’t make such comments. If it’s not news to you, then why on earth would you even think I was saying that colleges didn’t know the difference? I’m saying yes, they know the difference but they ignore it because it allows them to commit affirmative action with the compliance of majority minority urban and charter schools (which is very unfair to the often far better educated minority students in comprehensive suburban schools, but whose teachers have actual high achieving students and so aren’t willing to commit fraud).

    It would be more effective, and easier (if still impossible) to put pressure on Newsweek to factor AP passing rates into the best schools rating, than to fantasize that the College Board would be able to dictate thousands of high schools’ grading policy.

    You do understand that the CB dictates whether or not schools can call a course AP? So that it would be a simple matter to add “grade must be linked to AP score in this manner” to the dictates?

    The CB doesn’t want to do this, for the obvious reason that it would cut participation by a third and, of course, people like Jay Mathews would scream bloody murder, so it would be unpopular. But their capability to do it isn’t even remotely in question.

    I haven’t seen anyone on this thread, or the “AP to remediation” thread, cite an example of an existing curriculum for non-AP students.

    What are you talking about? It’s called “high school”. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Algebra II, Geometry, English III, whatever. Good lord.

    CSU actually has a course for English that could be offered as an option, but that would be best for kids who are functionally competent and just not ready for AP. The kids in this story, not so much.

    f you pass all your AP classes, you have a better shot at those things.

    Wrong. If you pass all your AP TESTS, not classes, you have a better shot. The whole point is that the kids, many of them functionally illiterate and without a working knowledge of multiplication tables, took and passed AP classes because the teachers lied.

    THE issue is that they read at a fifth grade level when they are in 11th and 12th grade, that they’re essentially illiterate at age 17, long after the prime window for developing immersive fluency with the written word has passed.

    Wrong. That’s THE overriding issue of our educational policy, which dictates we ignore cognitive ability and its impact on ability to learn.

    But THE issue as discussed in my op ed and this article is about the misuse of AP.

    Besides, regardless of what you yourself say, many posters did explicitly or implicitly state that these students could just succeed if they were given high expectations and less self-esteem.

  22. Cranberry says:

    If a student is functioning at the fifth grade level, is he able to complete an algebra course?

    I emphasized the appeal of the AP exam as an independently graded exam, because it is not subject to watering down by school authorities. Who’s to say that algebra is the same in all schools? It should be, but with the requirement in some states for all students to take algebra by 8th grade, it now seems that reliable teachers are willing to stick their necks out and report that, by gosh, algebra at School A doesn’t resemble a “real” algebra course.

    I’d like to think that there are non-AP versions of classes like English/Literature, History, Math, etc.

    We’d all like to think so. There are many dedicated teachers who are preparing their high school students for college. Most high school classes, apart from IB and AP, aren’t subject to outside grading, though. As a parent and student, you really do rely upon the dedication and duty of the school system’s administration. The pressure from the politicians to pass everyone does not support academic achievement. After all, high school graduation is not necessarily dependent on competence, if the administration’s willing to award the diplomas.

  23. Cardinal Fang says:

    So let’s say you are operating a school that has the bottom half of Summit students–students whose family is presumably somewhat motivated, but who are underprepared.

    You have a class of eleventh graders. Unlike Summit, you don’t put these kids in precalculus, AP English Language and AP European History, because those are college level classes, and your students are not ready for college work, as you know from the fact that they fail the CSU test that’s supposed to tell a student whether she is on track to avoid remediation. If a student isn’t even on track to avoid remediation after graduating from high school, a fortiori she isn’t ready for college work now.

    What DO you do with your eleventh graders? What do you teach? What homework do you assign them? Do you think you can get them ready for college, so they have to go to remedial classes, before they graduate?

  24. Cardinal Fang says:

    Another question– what is going on in these “AP” classes taught to students who read at a fifth grade level? How is any student doing the homework? And why does the College Board allow the schools to label these farces “AP”?

  25. Cranberry says:

    I’m saying yes, they know the difference but they ignore it because it allows them to commit affirmative action with the compliance of majority minority urban and charter schools (which is very unfair to the often far better educated minority students in comprehensive suburban schools, but whose teachers have actual high achieving students and so aren’t willing to commit fraud).

    We agree that the colleges will admit the students they want to admit. They aren’t looking for the best educated minority students. They’re looking for a selection of students from different backgrounds. To admit better educated minority students in comprehensive schools, but not admit non-minority students with better grades and test scores from the same schools would open them up to charges of affirmative action.

    You do understand that the CB dictates whether or not schools can call a course AP? So that it would be a simple matter to add “grade must be linked to AP score in this manner” to the dictates?

    The CB doesn’t want to do this, for the obvious reason that it would cut participation by a third and, of course, people like Jay Mathews would scream bloody murder, so it would be unpopular. But their capability to do it isn’t even remotely in question.

    Theoretically, it’s possible for a student to do sterling work throughout the term, but fail the exam due to nerves, or illness, or a family tragedy. On a practical level, exam scores are released after grades are handed in. It’s placement into the AP classes which has the most influence on college admissions.

    If the College Board tried to influence school grading policies, we’d see schools switch to IB, or offer the same course, but not title it “AP.” The students could still take the exams. The schools could declare the courses “senior honors” courses, or something, weight them accordingly, and include a pretty statement for colleges that the faculty finds the AP courses too restrictive, thus chooses not to participate.

  26. Mark Roulo says:

    Cranberry,

    Thanks. Now I get your point.

    No, outside of IB and AP I don’t think that there are any classes that have outside verification that the course content matches the content expected from the course title. Or that an ‘A’ means any particular thing(s) have been learned.

    Bummer, that.

    -Mark Roulo

  27. And we wonder by the achievement gap continues?

    The “gap” is only a mystery if you cannot admit that ability might not be evenly distributed by ethnicity (in other words, humanity is biodiverse).  If you look at students in US schools vs. performance of the same ethnic groups in their countries of origin, US schools actually look pretty good.  (Warning, post and site offensive to the Politically Correct.)

    Theoretically, it’s possible for a student to do sterling work throughout the term, but fail the exam due to nerves, or illness, or a family tragedy.

    But the averages won’t look like that.

  28. Mark Roulo says:

    THE issue is that they read at a fifth grade level when they are in 11th and 12th grade, that they’re essentially illiterate at age 17

    I get the point, and agree that things are going very badly, but these kids aren’t illiterate in any way that normal people use the word. 5th grade reading level is roughly the level at what the first Harry Potter book is written. Being able to read Harry Potter, but not much more is *NOT* illiterate, even if it is not very good for a 17 year old.

    I don’t think things are helped by using illiterate for these kids. We need another term.

  29. Cranberry is right about students and parents forced to rely on the integrity of both teachers and administrators (who have been willing to change grades) regarding grades. About a decade ago, the School Board of a suburban DC county was shocked, SHOCKED to discover that each school had been setting its own pass rate for the county-wide algebra 1 exam, resulting in a passing differential of more than 20 raw-score points between the high-achieving and low-achieving schools. The practice (since changed to a county-wide raw score pass level) had been widely known among students, parents and teachers for years, as was the fact that the county-wide course descriptions really applied only to the high-achieving schools.

    I would like to make it clear that I absolute do not believe that the NO kids in question could have passed AP tests with higher expectations and less self-esteem. I did say they needed less self-esteem focus in school but what they needed most were 10-11 years of good curricula and direct, efficient instruction from teachers with expertise in their content areas.

  30. cranberry says:

    Not Ready for Academic Work. NRAW
    Kidnapped by Popular Culture. KiPoC
    Lacking Background Knowlege. LBC

    I think you’ll find a similar lack of academic readiness in students in rural communities.

    Engineer-Poet, of course the averages won’t look like that. Requiring a school to adjust a student’s grade downwards for a poor AP result would add significantly to the academic pressure. In most suburban schools, the kids taking a heavy AP load generate enough academic pressure without the fear of destroying their grade point average by choosing the wrong topic.

  31. Cardinal Fang says:

    “The “gap” is only a mystery if you cannot admit that ability might not be evenly distributed by ethnicity (in other words, humanity is biodiverse). ”

    I don’t think this is the right diagnosis. Take a look at the results for the white students in Alabama. They get 1s in US History, 1s in AB Calculus, 1s in Bio, Chemistry, Micro, Macro, European History, Physics B, Enviro. Somehow their white skin didn’t translate into passing those tests. To say it’s all about race is simplistic.

  32. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Mark-

    Being able to read a sentence written at the level of Harry Potter complexity, and being able to read through the entire book with some degree of understanding what the author says is going on are two entirely different things, and both, I think, deserve to be called “literacy”.

    And many college students under my instruction lack the latter: asking them to follow a thought sustained for more than 6 pages is asking too much.

    I consider that illiteracy. If you’ve a better term for it, I’m open to suggestions.

  33. Yes, the CB says who can put the trademark AP on their course descriptions via the syllabus approval process. But that’s the extent of the oversight — nobody checks to see if you follow that syllabus. In fact, once they realized they were going through the same syllabus submitted by multiple teachers, they put in a way of indicating that you are submitting a previously approved syllabus — so any number of teachers can be approved and wouldn’t even had to have looked at that syllabus.

    I suspect going back and making sure high schools were changing grades after the results of the exams are posted would cut into their bottom line. If you think reducing their profit margin to be an “easy fix,” good luck to ya.

    The exams are the proof in the pudding. If colleges want to admit someone who got an A in the course and a 1 on the exam, they know exactly what they’re doing and that’s their business.

  34. If colleges want to admit someone who got an A in the course and a 1 on the exam, they know exactly what they’re doing and that’s their business.

    Not if it’s a public university banned from taking race into consideration, it’s not.

    If you think reducing their profit margin to be an “easy fix,” good luck to ya.

    I’ve mentioned several times that this policy would eat into the CB’s profit margin. Of course, the issue you mention is laughably trivial and not the real risk to profits.

    Moreover, it seems quite obvious that the CB will not make such a change unless required to. Again, this has been discussed several times in the other thread. I’d tell you to read back, but I fear the real problem is that you simply don’t understand the nature of the changes being discussed, and why they are being proposed. So the conversation goes over your head.

    Teachers do tend to myopia.

    Cardinal, no AP scores (including blacks and Hispanics) are representative of the overall population. The very incentives we’re discussing here means that often unqualified students in particular schools are more likely to take the test. Alabama’s scores, which are an extremely small sample size, suggest that the only schools sponsoring the tests are charter schools with weak students (regardless of race). Alabama’s ACT scores for white students are below the average for whites nationally (22.3 to 21.6), but nothing of the level that the dismal AP scores suggest.

    In other words, Engineer is almost certainly right. Race is a great deal of the problem and, to the extent that it isn’t, the Alabama white AP scores aren’t evidence otherwise.

    5th grade reading level is roughly the level at what the first Harry Potter book is written.

    The first Harry Potter book is at the level of what the average suburban fifth grader can achieve, but if the NAEP used it as the typical benchmark, our nation’s report card would be much lower. In short, the kids we’re talking about would not be able to understand Harry Potter which, if assessed by our educational standards rather than publisher standards, is closer to 8th grade level.

    but what they needed most were 10-11 years of good curricula and direct, efficient instruction from teachers with expertise in their content areas.

    What makes you think they didn’t have that? Don’t point at their results to argue otherwise. We can’t assume that lack of ability is caused by poor teaching or curriculum.

    If the College Board tried to influence school grading policies, we’d see schools switch to IB, or offer the same course, but not title it “AP.”

    Of course. And that would be a good thing. It would stop the fraud and misuse of funds, for starters. Second, schools don’t just get to call a course “honors” and get a weighted GPA point–universities have to approve it. They won’t give that approval easily. ( This is one reason why most honors courses have been abandoned for AP–because the universities automatically bless AP.) So what if really low performing schools declare they have “honors” courses, if it doesn’t waste funds and doesn’t give the kids a weighted GPA? We’re down to the problem of the kids being lied to, but at least they aren’t being lied to courtesy of a national program that purports to be the gold standard of college readiness.

    As for IB, they’d be forced to do the same in order to qualify for test funds (in this mythical scenario), and IB is far more expensive than AP anyway, with far less college acceptance of its tests.

  35. Cranberry says:

    “It would stop the fraud and misuse of funds, for starters. ”

    “The federal government spent $41.3-billion on grant aid for undergraduate and graduate students in 2009-10, the most recent year for which data are available, according to one of two reports released Thursday by the College Board. That’s up from $25.2-billion the year before, an increase of about 72 percent, or $16.1-billion in constant dollars.” (http://chronicle.com/article/Federal-Grant-Aid/125133/)

    The fee for an AP exam, without fee waivers, is $87. (http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/exam/calendar/190165.html)
    2.3 million AP exams were taken in 2009. (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/11/education/11college.html)

    I submit that even if the federal government were to cover the AP fee for ALL AP tests, the funds used ($200 million) would pale in comparison to federal grant aid in 2008. The College Board could point out that the accurate scoring of the AP exams gives colleges useful information about student achievement. It would only be fraudulent if the College Board were to lie about the scores earned–and they don’t.

  36. Requiring a school to adjust a student’s grade downwards for a poor AP result would add significantly to the academic pressure.

    Non sequitur.  Relatively few students are going to choke on the AP test but not class exams; what matters is that the class tests are on the AP level and graded fairly.  (I was the opposite; I slacked off after the AP calc exam and got a lousy class grade, but scored a 5 on the BC.)

    Take a look at the results for the white students in Alabama.

    Nothing requires ability to be evenly distributed within the groups we call ethnicities either, especially after generations of migration, selection and assortative mating.

  37. Given the prevailing preference for the teacher being “the guide on the side”, as the kids work in groups and pursue discovery learning, I made the assumption that these kids had not had the “sage on the stage” direct instruction (let alone DIrect Instruction) and a focus on individual work. Given the popularity of “balanced literacy”, journaling and spiral math curricula (Everyday Math, TERC etc), I made the assumption that these kids had experienced something similar. Given the relatively few schools that use the Core Knowledge or classical curricula and Singapore Math, I made the assumption that their school did not, especially since schools using such programs usually advertise the fact. Given decent teachers and a climate that demanded effort from the students, I just don’t think it likely that all the kids would have been at their current level if they had had a stronger curriculum and explicit instruction. Disadvantaged kids depend almost totally on schools for their cultural literacy and it needs to be conveyed in the most effective and efficient methods possible.

  38. Susie, your comments were on track, and unfortunately, many parents won’t like them (since they are non-PC), but this is reality.

    These students had ABSOLUTELY no business being placed into AP classes, and no business taking the AP exam (if the district thinks it achieved something by thinking out of the box, it must have forgotten about Bridget Green).

    Bridget was the student in LA who was slated to be the valedictorian, but couldn’t graduate due to her failing the math exam needed to graduate (as I recall, she finally passed on her 7th or 8th try).

    I guess her self-esteem took quite a beating when she found out she wasn’t going to graduate.

    sigh

  39. Mark Roulo says:

    Michael: I consider that illiteracy. If you’ve a better term for it, I’m open to suggestions.

    I don’t have another term to suggest, but I still don’t think that illiteracy is the correct term.

    My complaint is that if/when we use illiteracy the way you do, we create the following problem:
    (a) “Ah, the kids are illiterate,” say we.

    (b) “Oh, no,” says John Q. Public. “The kids can’t read!”

    (c) Later on John Q. Public discovers that the kids *can* read, and we still consider this illiteracy. John Q. Public decides that when the “people who care” call someone illiterate, it doesn’t mean anything.

    In short, I think using illiteracy *here* hurts the cause of those of us who would like the kids to read better.

  40. CarolineSF says:

    There were already 39 comments on this post when I first looked at it, from well-informed education observers, and none of them mentioned Jay Mathews or Newsweek…? That’s baffling.

    OK, just to clarify. The annual Newsweek high school rankings use a gauge designed by Newsweek/Washington Post reporter Jay Mathews. That method bases the ranking entirely — ENTIRELY — on the number of AP (and a couple of other lesser-known similar program) classes per capita taken by the school’s juniors and seniors. It does not take into account how they do on the AP tests.

    The Newsweek rankings are very high-profile, and I see people nationwide talking about their school’s ranking in that feature, oblivious to the highly questionable way the ranking was achieved.

    Just this one feature, created by one journalist, has created an entire nationwide culture of pushing students into AP classes whether or not they have the capacity or interest.

  41. Given the prevailing preference for the teacher being “the guide on the side”, as the kids work in groups and pursue discovery learning, I made the assumption that these kids had not had the “sage on the stage” direct instruction (let alone DIrect Instruction) and a focus on individual work.

    That’s the prevailing method recommended by ed schools. It is in no way the prevalent method of instruction. You find it in progressive charters, but rarely anywhere else.

    There were already 39 comments on this post when I first looked at it, from well-informed education observers, and none of them mentioned Jay Mathews or Newsweek…?

    Or maybe you don’t read very clearly? I mentioned it in the tenth comment and the whole point of our focus on “majority minority schools” is that these are the schools gaming the Challenge Index. That’s the premise for much of the conversation.

    Put another way, go find a grandma and teach her Eggsucking 101. (g)

  42. CarolineSF says:

    Sorry, I saw it after I posted — reading through 39 comments I missed the fleeting mention. I understand that that’s the premise for much of the conversation, but it seems like it needs to be the looming, dominant theme — the entire blog post should be named after Mathews. This would simply not be happening if it weren’t for his absurd system and the outrageously undeserved amount of credibility that feature carries.

  43. cal, i get that you are explaining yourself further to commenters here, but there’s no need to insult them, or be condescending when you do. it diminishes the validity of what you are saying by making you sound defensive, as if you have no better argument than, ” if you don’t get it, it’s because you’re dumb.”

  44. Cal: as a seasoned AP teacher, I understand perfectly what the issues are. I just think your solution is poor. It adversely affects those programs being run properly (like mine) in order to reverse the Challenge Index effect. We have enough of that sorta crap in education — the punishment of the academically accelerated for the sake of the bottom. Get rid of the Challenge Index instead.

  45. Ho hum, here’s the good news, folks: when the coming financial apocalypse fully plays out and educational funding is cut nationwide by 50%, then those kids who really want to learn will find a way to do it (library cards – yeah!!!!) Those that are just yanking chains will dig ditches (in China if they’re lucky) minus the limo rides and restaurant dinners. Also, obesity won’t be an “epidemic” any longer.

  46. Honors and AP classes are for kids who are intellectually curious, and have been since they were elementary school students. Intellectually curious kids read, explore, study and remember facts on their own because they are intrinsically motivated to find things out. Higher learning cannot take place in a brain that’s essentially a vacuum. I have 36 in my honors English class. Only 5 of them belong there.

  47. It adversely affects those programs being run properly (like mine) in order to reverse the Challenge Index effect.

    It doesn’t affect anything about your program except the grade issued, and to the extent the grades don’t line up with scores, that’s a positive effect. (But I love the phrase “reverse the CI effect” and shall steal it.)

    Caroline–for me, it is a huge part of the incentive. I wasn’t able to get it published when I specifically mentioned CI.

    However, I do think that there’s an effort to inflate URM performance that would exist regardless of the CI. In many ways, I think the CI makes it very clear how many schools are abusing this program–an unintended benefit for people like us who want to get rid of it.

    Maia, give it a rest. You wasted a whole post on netnannying and didn’t add a thing to the conversation (unlike both Lightly and Caroline, who did contribute and didn’t whine).

  48. BadaBing is quoteworthy.

  49. Cardinal Fang says:

    Lightly, how many of your students get As or Bs in your class, but 2s or 1s on the AP test? Why do those A/B students do so poorly on the AP test, and why do you nevertheless think they deserve their As or Bs? What if they kept the grade you gave them, but didn’t get the AP bump in their GPA- would that satisfy you?

  50. Cardinal: one or two a year. I never really know why did they poorly (unless they happen to be good annotaters) — my guess is that they misread one of the essay prompts. They deserve their A’s and B’s because they earned them. They did the same quality of work in my class as the kid who received a 4 on the exam. (I’ve never had a kid get a 1.)

  51. Well-said, Badabing! The Challenge Index is misleading, at best. The school my older kids attended was, and is, outstanding; excellent faculty and excellent students. This is not reflected in its CI standing because (gasp, horrors!) it still requires the appropriate honors course to be a prerequisite for the AP course. The honors sciences (all double-period, every day) prior to the AP ones, honors US prior to AP US, honors world prior to AP Euro and so on. This means that the AP classes are real college-level classes, for those who have already completed the HS-level classes. (This was the original purpose of AP classes) The kids taking the AP classes are the kids to whom Badabing was referring; they have spent 10 years preparing for them. This school has enough such kids to fill all their AP classes with only such kids.

  52. scrooge mcduck says:

    [Discovery learning is] the prevailing method recommended by ed schools. It is in no way the prevalent method of instruction. You find it in progressive charters, but rarely anywhere else.

    That’s true for high schools in general and AP classes in particular. But it is not true for elementary and middle schools where group and discovery learning are used, and not just in “progressive charters”. See http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/2011/01/what-i-see-parent-volunteer-tells.html.

  53. My observations match Scrooge’s; my older kids didn’t experience it but my younger ones sure did and it was awful. Fortunately, their schools offered a number of honors sections where all the kids in the groups put in appropriate effort. That was bad enough but there were more honors kids than spaces so they had some “mixed” classes; in those, the honors kids were expected not only to be “peer tutors” (no kid should be forced to do that) but to actually do the work for the bottom kids (mainstreamed spec ed). Everyone was given the same grade, of course. It was also incredibly inefficient; my kids learned the material in 20% of the time, just by reading (the text or other sources) and enormously painful in mixed classes.

  54. cranberry says:

    I’ll take a different tack on this. Our state just began releasing statistics on AP exams by school and district. You can look up online how many exams were taken, how many students took exams, or took more than one, and what percentage of the the school’s exam takers received 1-2 vs. 3-5.

    I looked at five comparable towns, one of them our own. All these towns are at the top of the state for education spending, SES indicators. In general, the towns are populated by white upper-class suburban professionals living in intact families. They all score at the top of the state exams for the percentage of advanced students.

    And yet, the percentage of students taking AP exams varies from 13% to 30%. In alll of the towns, the passing rate is over 90%. I have to say, had I had this data while house hunting, we would have chosen the town which allows 30% of its students to take APs, with a 95% passing rate. Not the town which allows only 13% of its students to take APs, with a 92% passing rate. I know the towns well enough to say that all of them could allow 30% of their students to take AP courses.

    Adding the passing rate to the Challenge index would be very useful, but of course it would then rearrange the “best schools” list.

  55. My experience agrees with Cranberry that many schools have large percentages of kids who could and should take AP classes. In some cases, like the areas where I’ve lived, that should be a large majority. Adding more sections of AP English, the histories and other humanities is possible, but adding more sections to the sciences, calc and perhaps foreign languages is likely to be much more difficult. In the school I just mentioned, one teacher taught 2 sections of the honors science and the only double-period AP science class. In Spanish, the same teacher taught 2 sections of honors 4, plus AP Language and AP lit. There were 3 sections of calc BC. Finding enough equally-qualified biology, chem and physics teachers to add another AP section is not likely to be easy, even in affluent areas and the calc and foreign languages probably aren’t much easier to cover. I have heard the suggestion that schools/districts could contract with professionals in the community to teach only sciences and/or APs, such that a local pharmacist (in rural areas) could teach only chem or AP chem, or (in urban or suburban areas) a biologist from a local company could teach only AP bio, or a retired engineer could teach AP physics or calculus but such an idea is likely to meet exceedingly strong opposition from the ed bureaucracy and the teachers’ union, even if the school has no suitably qualified candidates to do the job. I’n not saying more sections shouldn’t be added, just that it may not be easy to do

  56. Mark Roulo says:

    I have heard the suggestion that schools/districts could contract with professionals in the community to teach only sciences and/or APs … but such an idea is likely to meet exceedingly strong opposition from the ed bureaucracy and the teachers’ union…

    My guess is that the teachers’ union would make this *very* difficult, but in an area with this high demand I think that might be the only problem.

    If we were only trying to solve the availability-of-teachers problem, I would suggest going to the local JC. Often the teachers there are only teaching a partial load (at least that was my experience many years ago) and I can easily imagine some of those teachers being willing to teach a high school AP class.

    In theory this should be fine. The AP *IS* college level, right? And if the kids took the same class at the local JC, then these teachers would be the ones teaching it.

    But I’d still expect lots of union opposition because the JC teachers don’t have credentials and are thus unqualified…

    🙂

  57. It is LONG past time that the “credential” issue be fixed to reflect real-world knowledge and skills. It is beyond appalling that a someone with a science major in secondary ed and a MAT is considered “highly qualified” but someone with a BS and MS in engineering is completely unqualified. Is is possible that the latter might not be the best fit for all HS classes, but for honors and AP, it might well be the best fit. The same would apply to other areas.

  58. Mark Roulo says:

    It is LONG past time that the “credential” issue be fixed to reflect real-world knowledge and skills. It is beyond appalling that a someone with a science major in secondary ed and a MAT is considered “highly qualified” but someone with a BS and MS in engineering is completely unqualified.

    What is funny is that the colleges (including the JCs) could force this issue if they wanted to do so. Just refuse to teach the highschool/remedial classes because “our teachers aren’t qualified” due to a lack of teaching credential.

    What I find super amusing is that the same people (a) are qualified to teach college freshmen, and (b) are not qualified to teach high school seniors … even when the high school seniors are taking a “college level” class.

    The colleges won’t force the issue … they have no reason to do so. But the contradiction is quite amusing.

  59. Cranberry–I agree, and that’s why I said that the AP scores should never be considered representative of the population as a whole. Far fewer whites are taking the courses than could actually pass.

    I think parents should insist on more AP courses being opened. It’s absurd to see a top ranked school with just 2 AP History classes, for example.

    I would also support a reform that allows the course label to be changed retroactively. So if I were teaching a non-AP US History course and thought that 30% of my kids could pass the AP test, I could encourage them to take the test. If they passed it, they would get college credit and their course transcript would be changed to be marked as AP.

    Of course, the CB would get upset about this because they say they want to check the curriculum. However, that’s a faux reform effort designed to say “look, we’re checking the course quality” and it’s nonsense.

  60. Cranberry says:

    It could bear a relationship to the schools’ philosophy of teacher assignment. It seems some schools require the teachers thought to be the best to teach both the highest and the lowest level courses, which decreases the number of AP courses one teacher is able to teach. In some schools, there’s one AP teacher in each discipline, and he or she determines the size of the AP cohort.

    Knowing the towns fairly well, I don’t believe there’s a limited supply of AP-competent teachers. As compensation is tied to professional development, and the acquisition of advanced degrees, I’d be willing to let my child take an AP course with teachers who haven’t accrued seniority yet. Of course, I suspect everyone in the school district could make a list of the teachers who could teach AP, and it wouldn’t match a list of teachers arranged by seniority.

    Cal, by the time parents realize it’s a problem, it’s too late to advocate to change institutional policy. It’s also ticklish in terms of town politics. If almost no one can get into AP courses, then most students are equal. If 30% can get into AP, then the sorting is more obvious. I would argue that most schools do have a sorting mechanism, but the existence of advanced courses makes it more apparent.

    As some will complain about the performance of advance students on international comparisons, I think policies limiting access to advanced courses for qualified kids are a huge part of the problem. I think if you are encouraging qualified students to work harder, you will end up with larger group of students who will do well. If you have 100% of AP students getting 5s on the exam, you’re being too restrictive.

    Academic capacity isn’t evenly distributed in America’s high schools. The Challenge Index catapults some schools to the top, which schools no one with any other options would choose for their children. Adding the overall performance to the index would be a huge improvement. It would also be very eye-opening to compare the performance of schools with similar demographics.

  61. Cardinal Fang says:

    Cal suggested, “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.”

    Lightly, you don’t like this idea, but from what you say, it would make very little difference to your students. One or two kids would have their grade lowered from B to C, and maybe some 3-getters would get Bs instead of As. It might not even be that bad, if students, realizing the AP test might affect their grade, studied a little harder for it.

    Some AP classes already link grades to the AP test score. My son’s online AP Gov class required students to pass the AP test to pass the course.

  62. Cardinal: There is actually isn’t much studying one can do for the AP English other than skill development. I know it is only a few students — overall, grades should match performance — but my sense of justice balks at punishing a few to fix problems they have nothing to do with.

    Anyone can teach an AP course. The CB doesn’t require any special qualification (such as degree, etc.). I could have many, many more students taking AP than currently do so. I don’t limit the sections in any way — they choose not to take them. That’s more the issue in affluent suburban schools –the kids opt out.

    And anyone can take an AP exam. Just pay your $87. I don’t know why it would be really necessary to go back and put AP on the transcript afterwards if you report a 4 or 5 to the university. Private school kids take the exams without the “AP course” all the time.

  63. Cardinal Fang says:

    It’s not as easy as you think to just take an AP exam. One has to find a school who will take your money and administer the exam; many refuse. As a homeschooling parent looking for a school that would administer the tests to my son, I had to listen to a lot of No before I found one.

    Lightly, having looked at the AP English sample tests, I got the impression that practice would help. For example, I’m a perfectly competent writer but I’d have to review terminology, practice timed essays and practice with the kind of multiple choice questions on the test to get a passing grade on an AP English test. That kind of targeted study would help your students as well. (Not that I recommend it, but some students would get higher grades if they did it.)

  64. LOL. Cardinal. Believe me, I know what the AP exam requires in terms of prep. My students’ score average was a 4.2 last year.