AP for average students

A Pittsburgh high school is “spreading the AP gospel” to average students, not just the high achievers, reports the New York Times. Brashear High, a school with “middling” performance, is collaborating with the National Math and Science Initiative, to get more students to take AP classes — and pass AP exams.

Brashear has offered A.P. classes in biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, calculus and statistics, but few among the school’s 1,400 students excelled. Last year, of the 159 enrolled in those classes, nearly two-thirds did not even take the tests, which normally cost $89 each. (Because of subsidies by NMSI and the school, the fee this year is as low as $9.)

Just 10 students accounted for the 13 passing scores of 3 or higher. No Brashear student has passed the chemistry exam since 2010, or scored higher than 1 in statistics in the two years that course has been taught.

NMSI uses teacher training, student study sessions and cash incentives to raise test-taking and pass rates.

In the first year of NMSI’s help, the number of passing scores on science and math A.P. exams jumps by an average of 85 percent, according to data from the College Board, which administers the A.P. tests. By the end of the three-year effort, the number has nearly tripled, on average.

Students get $100 for a passing score of 3 or better on the AP exam. The teacher also gets $100 — plus a $1,000 bonus for reaching a target number of passing scores.

Many Brashear students are struggling in rigorous AP classes this year, reports the Times. However, Principal Kimberly Safran has turned down most requests to drop AP. “Parents are beginning to understand that the rigor of the course and having the tenacity to complete the course are important for success after high school,” she said.

Advocates say students don’t have to pass the AP exam to benefit from the challenge.

“We think 20 out of 40 passing physics is better than 10 out of 10,” NMSI’s Gregg Fleisher said. “What typically happens is our pass rate usually stays the same, but the kids that were in class that were passing at 30 percent, now they’ll pass at 50 or 60 percent. And the kids who were never given an opportunity would pass at 20 or 30 percent.”

Low-SES achievers falter in high school

Black, Latino and low-income achievers — kids who scored in the top quartile as sophomores — lose ground in high school concludes a new Education Trust report, Falling Out of the Lead.

The report looks at sophomores who scored in the top quartile in math and reading. Compared to whites and to students of higher socioeconomic status, top-quartile disadvantaged students complete high school with lower grades and SAT or ACT scores. They’re less likely to pass an AP exam or to apply to a selective college.

“These are the students who arrive at high school most ready to take advantage of rigorous and high-level instruction,” Marni Bromberg, The Education Trust’s research associate and co-author of the report, said in a statement. “But to reach the academic levels that they are capable of, they need exposure to challenging curriculum as well as support and guidance from their schools, including in selecting a college that can really challenge them.”

Blacks and Latinos who started in the top quartile were significantly more likely than high-achieving white students to graduate with a C average.

Displaying EdTrust_FallingOutoftheLead_Fig10.jpgCredit: Education Trust

The report praises Ohio’s Columbus Alternative High School, which pushes nearly all students to college.

A Fordham email suggests college-for-all schools don’t challenge urban achievers. “As Tom Loveless illustrated in a 2009 Fordham report, suburban schools by and large ignored the call to de-track their middle schools and high schools, and kept advanced courses in tact. Urban schools, on the other hand, moved to “heterogeneous groupings. That means the high achievers in the suburbs still get access to challenging, fast-paced courses, while those in the cities generally do not.”

AP overload?

“Some parents, educators and even university admissions officers are rethinking the role of AP classes,” reports the Baltimore Sun. Achievers are overloaded, while poorly prepared students at low-performing schools often “flounder and fail” when pushed into AP, writes the Sun.

“The relentless marketing effort by many principals to place a greater number of kids into a greater number of AP classes — all in a single semester, as early in a student’s career as possible — is backfiring,” said Mary Ellen Pease, a co-founder of Advocates for Better Course Choices in Baltimore County Public Schools and the parent of two recent county graduates.

Dulaney High offers 25 AP courses, but fewer honors classes. The remaining honors classes “often are too easy and are taken by students who are struggling to pass,” say AP students. 

Sixty percent of applicants to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have taken 10 to 12 AP classes. Freshmen-year grades go up for each AP course up to five, then level off, the university found. It’s telling applicants they’ll get no advantage from taking more than five APs.

(Admissions director Steve) Farmer hopes the new policy will encourage students to be more thoughtful about their high school education, taking advanced courses they care about while leaving time for “reading the newspaper or learning to play the banjo or becoming a healthier or more interesting person.”

The top reason for taking AP classes is to raise admission odds, not to save on college tuition, said students in a College Board survey. 

 

 

The AP/IB challenge gap

Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses could help close the “high-end achievement gap” —  if more low-income, black and Latino students take these rigorous courses, concludes Finding America’s Missing AP and IB Students. The report is by the Education Trust and Equal Opportunity Schools.

Low-income students are one-third as likely to enroll in AP as their middle and high-income classmates. While 25.1 percent of Asian-American students take at least one AP course, that drops to 11.9 percent for whites, 9 percent for Latinos and 6 percent for blacks.

Ninety-one percent of public high school students attend schools that offer AP courses.

. . .  preparation prior to high school is part of the problem, and the nation’s schools need to work hard on that. But a recent analysis of PSAT scores by the College Board suggests there are far more students who have the potential to be successful, but are not enrolling. The College Board found that 72 percent of black students and 66 percent of Hispanic students whose PSAT scores suggested they had the potential to be successful in an AP math course, as well as 69 percent of black students and 65 percent of Hispanic students whose scores suggested they had the potential to be successful in an AP science course, were left out of the program.

San Jose Unified has doubled AP participation rates for under-represented subgroups, the report finds.

In Washington state, the Federal Way went beyond open access to AP and IB courses. Now  automatically enroll students who scored proficient or better on the state exam are enrolled automatically in AP or IB.

Teachers found that some of the new AP/IB students didn’t need additional supports to be successful in AP/IB — they had been ready all along — but others did. Schools relied on the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program that was already in place . . . the district extended instructional coaching support to ensure teachers were capable of meeting the demands of their new classes, offering techniques and strategies for differentiating lessons to reach all their students.

The Road to Equity: Expanding AP Access and Success for African-American Students, a new report by the Broad Foundation, looks at six urban districts where more black students are passing AP exams.

Top ‘challenge’ school faces closure

Oakland’s American Indian Public Charter High School  is the most challenging high school in the U.S., according to the Washington Post’s index, which measures the number of college-level tests taken per graduate. At AIPC, 81 percent of students come from low-income families, yet 86 percent of graduates pass at least one Advanced Placement or other college-level exam.

Yet the high school and the two high-scoring AIPC middle schools face closure in June, writes Jay Mathews. Nobody questions the schools’ academic success, but the Oakland school board thinks the AIPC board hasn’t managed public funds properly.

The Oakland district alleges that (AIPC former director Ben) Chavis, who rented property to the schools, “improperly received $3.8 million in public funding” that “violated conflict of interest laws.” The charges are worthy of adjudication, but is a shutdown the best option? . . . The schools have been at or near the top on state test results. Having one of the nation’s worst school systems kill off three of the nation’s best schools makes little sense.

Ben Chavis turned around a very low-performing charter school, creating three schools that put their students on the path to success. He’s now retired. If he’s profited illegally from his contracts with AIPC schools, prosecute him. But the county or the state board of education needs to keep the AIPC schools operating in Oakland.

Sally Ride, astronaut and teacher

Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space, died yesterday of pancreatic cancer at the age of 61. A physicist, Ride devoted her post-NASA career as an educator to making science “cool” for young people, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

With her life partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, Ride founded Sally Ride Science, which trained science teachers and organized summer science camps and festivals.

. . . as a board member of one ExxonMobil spinoff, the National Science and Math Initiative, … she made her greatest contribution. Through her role, NMSI has worked to give more young men and women, especially from poor and minority backgrounds, access to the strong, comprehensive college-preparatory education they need to get into the science and math fields that are the drivers of prosperity in an increasingly knowledge-based global economy. This includes its Advanced Placement recruitment initiative, which now works with 228 high schools in seven states to improve the success of black and Latino teens in math and science.

She was a very cool person.

AP test-takers have ‘swag’

Grading AP Comparative Government tests is educational, writes Coach Brown, who graded with “awesome” colleagues. Every AP teacher should know how readers analyze answers, he suggests.

Some AP test takers don’t even try: They wrote that they weren’t prepared and already had been admitted to college.  Quite a few wrote that they’d been required to take the test.

Experienced graders say that every year the students who aren’t trying seem to gravitate to a theme. This year, it was “swag,” referring to confidence and demeanor.

Some people wrote about how President Putin had major swag while Prime Minister Cameron had little swag. Others wrote how their life was full of swag, from chillin with homies to getting the ladies and playing hoop. Still others would actually write rap lyrics dedicated to swag.

But the ultimate was when one reader suddenly stated “Look! It’s a complete treatise on swag!” Sure enough, a student had taken the time to write what could be considered the definitive Wikipedia post on swag. It really had us rolling with laughter.

I ran across a different definition of swag when I volunteered as a copy editor for Mosaic, a high school student journalism workshop at San Jose State. A story on fixed-gear bicycling – a hip trend I’d never heard of — reported that cool “fixies” score free promotional products or “swag.”  Copy editing can be educational too. The Urban Dictionary accepts both definitions.

 

IB grows and grows

Today, more than 111,00 students around the world will get their International Baccalaureate exam results, notes the New York Times. Only 2 percent of U.S. high schools offer I.B. classes, but nearly 7 percent of U.S. college applicants earn the credential.

I.B. started in Switzerland in the 1960′s. It keeps growing.

In a survey being issued Monday university admissions officers in Britain, the United States and Europe were asked to compare their own country’s secondary school qualification with the I.B. in nine different categories including business skills, communication skills, creativity, the ability to cope with pressure and detailed knowledge of a subject. British admissions officers rated the A-level superior in assessing detailed knowledge of a subject. However in every other category the I.B. was rated either equal or superior to other qualifications.

U.S. admissions officers were asked to compare the I.B. with a high school diploma. Selective colleges “view a diploma as a minimal requirement,” writes the Times. Grades, test scores and Advanced Placement results determine admission. Successful candidates “have taken the most demanding subjects offered by their particular school,” says Christopher Watson, dean of undergraduate admissions at Northwestern.

 

Tough course titles, weak test scores

More high school students are taking advanced classes, but test scores haven’t improved. What’s going on? Course title inflation, answers the New York Times.

Algebra II is sometimes just Algebra I. And College Preparatory Biology can be just Biology.

Thirteen percent of high school graduates completed a rigorous curriculum in 2009, up from 5 percent in 1990, a federal study of transcripts reported in April. But the testing trend lines are flat.

“There may be a ‘watering down’ of courses,” said Arnold A. Goldstein, a director at the National Center for Education Statistics.

Schools inflate course titles to help students satisfy tougher high school graduation requirements, researchers say. It looks good to have more students in high-level or Advanced Placement classes.

About 15 percent of eighth-grade math courses — with titles from remedial through “enriched” to Algebra I — use textbooks that cover less advanced material, a Michigan State study found.

In 2008, Dr. (William) Schmidt surveyed 30 high schools in Ohio and Michigan, finding 270 distinctly labeled math courses. In science, one district offered Basic Biology, BioScience, General Biology A and B — 10 biology courses in all.

“The titles didn’t reveal much at all about how advanced the course was,” he said.

As Advanced Placement enrollment has soared, so have failure rates. Arkansas sextupled the number of students taking AP exams; only 30 percent earn a passing grade of 3, 4 or 5. Some argue that students benefit from the challenge, even if they don’t do well enough to earn college credit.

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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