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Attleboro's Advanced Placement - ELA

An honest and balanced discussion about Attleboro's Advanced Placement ELA Course results.

Alright, so last time I started this series on Attleboro’s High School Advanced Placement with an overview discussion on the different levels of curriculum, focused on what exactly Advanced Placement (AP) is supposed to be and what is considered a success.  Here is the link:

http://attleboro.patch.com/blog_posts/attleboros-advanced-placement-overview

So there are four different subject groupings for AP (English Language Arts (ELA), Social Studies, Math and Science) with multiple class offerings in each.  And since I admittedly have a tendency to make my articles a little bit too long (and thus losing too many of the readers half way through) I decided that I will write about each subject separately, followed by a conclusion summary article.

So today we’re going to start looking at the actual results focusing on the ELA subjects, which is probably a good place since it is one of the better subject areas as far as Attleboro’s results…

Since 2010 Attleboro has offered two classes for ELA, English Language Composition and English Literature Composition.  This will be great for comparison purposes as we’ll be able to see what the additional students into these subject over the years has done to the results (other subject groups have added courses, making this more difficult).

So first let’s look at the 2010 results:

2010 RESULTS

2010 AP Exam Score Breakdown

 

5

4

3

2

1

% Pass

% Fail

ELA

 

 

 

 

 

74.7

25.3

English Lang. Comp.

5

14

19

16

0

70.4

29.6

English Lit. Comp.

2

10

6

3

0

85.7

14.3

So back in 2010 there were 177 students taking 288 classes.  And of this 288 ELA accounted for 75.  The overall results were pretty good, with over 70% receiving a passing score on the national exam in English Language and over 85% in Lit.  Looking even further into the results it was very notable that not one student received a failing grade of 1 (equivalent of an F).  And this fact was, as I previously explained, noted by an ELA AP teacher, with some level of pride, during a presentation to the School Committee.

In 2011 Attleboro added 90 AP students and 133 AP classes.  This was a 46% increase, which when you think about it was huge.  The ELA classes accounted for 34 of these, which was an increase of 45% (13% increase in Language Comp. and a crazy 129% increase in Literature Comp.).  Here are the 2011 results:

2011 RESULTS

2011 AP Exam Score Breakdown

 

5

4

3

2

1

% Pass

% Fail

ELA

 

 

 

 

 

74.3

25.7

English Lang. Comp.

3

15

24

16

3

68.9

31.1

English Lit. Comp.

4

20

15

9

0

81.3

18.8

So, as any reasonable person might expect the dramatic increase did negatively affect the percentages of passing and failing scores.  English Language Composition dropped below 70% and English Literature Composition dropped 4.5%, but stayed above the 80% threshold.  One thing of note was how the additional 7 students in English Language resulted in 3 scores of 1 (again, that equates to an F and is understood by most that those receiving a 1 weren’t ready for such high level of rigor).  In addition, the added 27 students in English Literature resulted in a tripling of the failing scores.  Also the additional scores of 5 (equating to a grade of A) stayed the same.  At this point we now had almost one-third of those students taking English Language failing the national exam and almost 20% failing in Literature. 

My personal point of view is that 20% failing with a score of 2 (again, we’ve previously talked about how there is value in a score of 2) is acceptible, but the over 30% failing, which includes 3 scores of 1, is not.  Seems pretty obvious that we’ve “stretched” this program too far at this point (I use the term “stretch” since this has been used many times by the administration - and some members of the School Committee - as a positive nomenclature).

So, knowing the affects of the additional students and classes on the overall passing/failing between 2010 and 2011, I would imagine that the administration would have reined things in slightly for 2012.  Well, that’s not what happened.  In fact, what was done seems a little contrary to logic.  What they did do was add 15 students to Language Comp. (the course that had the higher level of failures) and slightly reduced the number of students in Lit.  Between 2011 and 2012 the total number of students taking an AP course was increased by 34 with 12 of those in ELA courses.  Here are the 2012 results:

2012 RESULTS

2012 AP Exam Score Breakdown

 

5

4

3

2

1

% Pass

% Fail

ELA

 

 

 

 

 

63.6

36.4

English Lang. Comp.

8

13

27

25

3

63.2

36.8

English Lit. Comp.

8

6

15

13

3

64.4

35.6

So the ever “stretching” of these courses has now led to results that I don’t think most would be happy about.  We now have over one-third of our students taking AP English courses failing the final exam.  On the positive side the number of students receiving a score of 5 (again, equivalent of an A) did increase, but we now have failing scores of 1 (equivalent of an F) in both courses and a large increase in failing scores of 2.

In fact, the 12 additional students/classes resulted in only 4 additional passing scores and 16 new failing scores.  This is not what I would categorize as a success.

SUMMARY

I think these results sum up the concerns that I have had with regard to Attleboro’s advanced placement perfectly.  It does seem very evident that as we continually increase the number of students each year that are taking advanced placement we are obviously increasing the number of students who are not really ready for such high level of rigor.  Remember again, this is supposed to be college equivalent courses.  Something that we don’t want to see watered down and something that we don’t want to see causing students, any student, to fall behind in their other courses.  All things that are real concerns as we continually push more and more into "giving it a try".

In my opinion, this needs to be dealt with immediately by the School Committee and the administration.  We need to have real, measurable goals set for both the district (the Superintendent) and the High School, which defines acceptible levels of passing and failing final exam scores in ELA AP (let alone all AP courses).  What is great is that the goal setting process should be happening now.  This is called the “Whole School Improvement Plan” for the schools and the “District Superintendent Goals” for the district.  Of course this is something that I, and others, tried to make happen back when I was serving but it was always met with resistance.  And since we didn’t have the amount of AP results that we do now it was more difficult to debate (the argument was that one year's results wasn't enough to cause concerns).  But now the results are obvious and anyone who argues against this would be going against the data.  Ultimately if the administration is still unwilling to take on acceptible AP passing/failing level goals (now that there are 3 years of results) then the next step would be for the School Committee to define this within policy, which is how the School Committee conveys their expectations to the administration.  And legitimately, any goal of this nature will have to result in what I have been advocating for years, which is some form of gate-keeping (meaning pre-requisites - likely some form of test) to advanced placement (college level curriculum).  And this gate-keeping can't just be that a teacher, student or parent thinks that the student might be ready...

Lastly, I want to say what a shame it is to see this bright spot in Attleboro’s AP program diminish.  This has historically been the one area where everyone could point and say, see this is pretty good.  But not anymore.  Not with over one-third of our students failing and the continued losses as we continue to add students.  I am honestly hoping that this series will lead to some level of enlightenment about what has and is happening in Attleboro in regard to AP and that it might lead to real questions being asked and real answers being required on how to get us back to where we should be.

Next time I'll be focusing on another AP area that we have done pretty well, Social Studies.

Thanks for reading!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Concerned Parent November 16, 2012 at 02:28 PM
I just compared Attleboro's scores against the National Averages and here is what I came up with: 2011: National Average for Language 61%Pass 39% Fail 2011: Attleboro Average for Language: 68% Pass 31% Fail 2011: National Average for Literature 58% Pass 43% Fail 2011: Attleboro Average for Literature: 81% Pass 18.8% Fail 2012: National Average for Language 60% Pass 40% Fail 2012 Attleboro Average for Language 63% Pass 36.8% Fail 2012 National Average for Literature 56% Pass 44% Fail 2012 Attleboro Average for Literature 64.4% Pass 35.6% Fail As is evident the issues that Mr. Stors' comments when looked at apples to apples prove that Attleboro is not diminishing in fact they are succeeding. These statistics come from Collegeboard.com
Jim Stors November 16, 2012 at 03:09 PM
See what is interesting here is that you did what the administration often does, which is compare Attleboro's results to the nation. One thing that is very important, and is something that we and the rest of our state should be proud of, is that Massachusetts is the highest level of public education in the nation. We're number 1 as far as expectations and results. Just look at the MCAS test, which is agreed by many as the most difficult testing in the nation. So although I can understand how our numbers stack up well to the nation, the point is that I think we should expect better. I have stated it many times before that we should not be comparing ourselves to the nation since we know that Attleboro is better than that. It also comes down to a simple question... In your opinion, is it acceptible that more than 1 in 3 students are receiving a final national exam score that equates to a failing grade of D or and F? Personally I don't think so. I am sure there is better data to look at to help explain this better, and I'll try to provide that later.
Concerned Parent November 16, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Here is an article from the Washington Post that says that a 1 or 2 isn't bad. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/even-a-bad-ap-score-can-be-good/2012/11/14/7b08d990-2e87-11e2-beb2-4b4cf5087636_story.html
Attleboro Parent November 16, 2012 at 08:28 PM
I think it is perfectly acceptable that students get a two. Research has shown that students who get twos on AP tests have a measurably higher college GPA than students who didn't take an AP course. Also, the article posted above has some promising statistics for students who get 1s as well. Furthermore, the idea of a gatekeeping policy is quite problematic. Ethically, it seems dubious to close off the courses that have been shown to produce huge benefits for students to only a select few. This data clearly shows that many students who weren't taking AP courses are now, and that they have been successful at a rate exceeding the national average. All of these students, as evidenced by the article above, are now more likely to be successful in college. Sounds like it's working pretty well to me.
Jim Stors November 16, 2012 at 09:07 PM
You might recall that I explained in the article that a couple of years ago I was concerned about the grade of 2, but after discussions with the administration and fellow Committee members I came to the understanding that those who receive a 2 are getting something out of the class. In fact this is why I started with the ELA topic, because overall this subject is doing better in this regard than some of the others. When I discuss the other subjects you'll hopefully see my concerns more clearly. I did read the blog that you provided and this person's opinion is definitely one take on this issue. But at the same time many have admitted that having students who are not ready slow down the class or end up leaving those students behind. Gatekeeping prevents this from happening. Here are some other links to opposing views, in case you want to take a look. If you read the last you'll see how many of the studies in which your point is taken from is flawed. http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/05/report_more_students_taking_ad.html http://nahsblotter.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/ap-classes-becoming-all-too-conventional/ http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-03-30-advanced-placement_N.htm

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