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.


Hard to great

The hard is what makes it great, Ms. W., a second-year Teach for America teacher, tells her AP U.S. History students.  Their performance varies.

The AP papers range from the sublime (“The Quakers allowed a remarkable degree of religious tolerance to flourish in Pennsylvania, perhaps because of their experiences with being persecuted during the English Civil Wars”) to the ridiculous (“When Christopher Columbus arrived from Great British he found the King of New England there and willing to help him.”)

Her students are used to getting A’s without studying. She’s trying to persuade them they’ll need to work harder to succeed in an AP class.

Cash offer boosts AP pass rate

New York City students offered cash for passing AP exams took and passed more tests this year. This was a change from the first year of Reach, when more students took an AP test but fewer passed.  This year, Reach offered a larger reward to students who attended Saturday tutoring sessions and passed the exam.

Students who attended the weekend classes and ultimately received a 5, the highest score, would receive $1,000, while students who did not attend the tutorials and received a score of 5 were awarded $500. Students who earned 4’s received $750 if they attended the sessions and $400 if they did not.

A Queens student earned $3,250 for passing four tests.

Reach, which is privately funded, offers the incentive at 31 public and Catholic schools with high minority enrollments.

Union says 'no' to AP bonus

Offered a $856,000 grant to expand Advanced Placement classes, the Leominster, Massachusetts teachers’ union said “no” by a vote of 305 to 47.

A portion of the grant goes toward paying teachers of Advanced Placement courses bonus money if they successfully recruit more students to take AP courses and if the students perform well on the end-of-the-year AP exam.

Students also would have received cash payments of $100 for every AP course they passed.

Bernadette Marso, outgoing president of the Leominster Education Association, said the union objected to “pay for performance.”

The grant also would have covered half of students’ costs for the AP exam and paid for professional development for teachers.

Via EIA Intercepts.