With my series on the latest MCAS results concluded I’ve started to once again look at the recently released advanced placement results for Attleboro. Some of you may remember the articles I wrote back in February in which I looked at the complete results from 2010 and the overall results from 2011 (the complete 2011 results had not yet been released at that time), while looking at the pros and cons of what Attleboro has been, and continues to be doing. Here are the links to those articles:
In that first article I discussed the three different tiers of Attleboro’s curriculum, college prep., honors and advanced placement and explained how Attleboro has been cutting back on the honors level of offerings in order to increase the advanced placement offerings, meaning more students, mainly in conjunction with a grant from MMSI. I also discussed how the advanced placement courses culminate in a final exam which is taken nationally and how the score on that exam can result in the student receiving credit when they head to college.
In the second article I provided the 2010 results and discussed what the 2011 participation increases led to, which was a higher increase in students failing the final exam than passing.
Well that article was limited due to the data being very limited. Since I only had complete results for 2010 and only the general numbers for 2011, I wasn’t able to really get into things and was only able to focus on what the increased participation resulted in as far as students passing and failing the final exam.
So, I have now reviewed the data on the advanced placement results and am happy to let you know that all of the results are available. This means that I am going to be able to take a really hard look at the specifics, meaning not just the passing and failing, but specifically the break down of the five different scores, trending over the three years, and more.
So as I did with the MCAS results from last year I think the best way to handle this is to make this a multi-article series, focusing on different aspects in each article.
For today I want to discuss the overall view of advanced placement and try to get into what is and is not a success. I want to do this before we start looking at the results so you can understand what the results mean.
So, as I’ve discussed before, there are three different levels of curriculum in Attleboro. I want to quickly discuss these before moving on.
The first minimum level is titled college preparatory. College prep. is the basic, fundamental level of high school curriculum needed to graduate. Students can go through high school with nothing more than college prep. for all of their classes and be able to go on to college.
The next level is honors, which is a more difficult class, with a faster pace, and should be only for those students who are ready for the higher rigor. This curriculum would not be considered of a college level, but is considered higher than college prep. and is valued by universities since it shows that the student was willing to push themselves. I need to be clear that not all students are ready for honors level.
And then we have advanced placement. Here is some information from the College Board website:
“The AP Program currently offers more than 30 courses across multiple subject areas. Each course is developed by a committee composed of college faculty and AP teachers, and covers the breadth of information, skills, and assignments found in the corresponding college course.”
“AP courses are taught by highly qualified high school teachers who use the AP Course Descriptions to guide them. The Course Description for each discipline outlines the course content, describes the curricular goals of the subject, and provides sample examination questions. “
“The AP Examinations are administered each year in May and represent the culmination of college-level work in a given discipline in a secondary school setting. Rigorously developed by committees of college and AP high school faculty, the AP Exams test students' ability to perform at a college level.”
So, this description starts to show just how important that one final exam is at he end of the year. Here’s some more:
“Admission and enrollment officials recognize the achievement of AP students, who demonstrate through successful exam scores that they are ready for the challenge of higher education and can, in turn, contribute new thoughts and ideas to the communities at their colleges and universities.”
Once again the College Board, which is the group that administers the courses, point to the final exam score as the means by which a success is defined.
And to recap the final exam, there are five scores that a student can get, with 5 being the highest and a 1 being the lowest. A score of 3, 4 or 5 is considered passing and is needed in order to obtain possible credit when the student moves on to college. I say “possible” because some universities will not accept a score of 3 as credit, and some will not accept the advanced placement course as credit at all. But the point is that universities want to see the student being successful, which means getting a minimum of a 3, but many want to see a minimum of a 4, if not that 5. Of course this means that a score of a 1 or 2 on the final exam means that the student has not succeeded and has no chance at getting college credit. Now the idea of a student getting a 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 is pretty easy to understand, but what do these scores really mean?
Well, here’s some more information from the College Board website:
“Definitions of the knowledge and skills required to earn scores of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 on an AP Exam are derived from standard settings and college comparability studies. These processes ensure that AP Exam outcomes align with college faculty expectations.”
But here is the real equivalent scoring, again from the College Board, website, that provides a comparison that most can understand:
A+ or A
A-, B+ or B
B-, C+ or C
So a 5 on the final is equivalent to a student having an A or A+ grade knowledge. A 4 equates to A-, B+ or B and a 3 is a B-. C+ or C. I’m sure it’s safe to say that most of you would want their child to get a course grade of somewhere within this area. In fact, just as the College Board has done, in defining a success as a final exam score of 3, 4 or 5; so to has the state of Massachusetts’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), who tracks a pass (score of 3, 4 or 5) and a fail (score of 1 or 2), and the Massachusetts Math and Science Institute, which is the group that has provided Attleboro with the grant funding for increasing advanced placement offerings, defines one of their goals as ‘increasing the number of students scoring a passing grade on the final exam of 3, 4 or 5’.
Now obviously College Board doesn’t want to provide an equivalent grade for a final exam score of 1 or 2, but it seems pretty obvious that a 2 is equivalent to a D and a 1 is equivalent to an F, since the other scores matched up with their corresponding grades.
IS THERE VALUE IN A 2?
This is a question that was raised three years ago when I was serving on the School Committee and it is a very fair question. The administration has seemed focused on increasing participation (numbers of students), while my concerns were focused on the possibility of watering down what advanced placement is supposed to be, setting students up for failure and reporting only the numbers of increases in participation, while seemingly hiding the percentages of passing and failing.
But the point made was that students who take an advanced placement course, even if they fail the final exam, get something out of it. Look that is a great argument for proponents of increasing AP participation, but the truth is that advanced placement is supposed to be college level. Are most students ready for college? Of course not! But some students are, and these are the students that advanced placement is made for. Look, I don’t expect every student who takes an advanced placement course to pass the final exam, but I do expect that the students who are given the privilege of being able to take advanced placement courses are able to learn at the fast pace required to cover all material and are ready to work hard in order to not fall behind. These students should not be set up for failure if they are not ready. But again, do I expect every student to score a 5 on the final exam? Of course not, though I do expect a high percentage to be scoring a minimum of 3 on that final. In my opinion, the expectation should be that around 80% of students taking an AP course are passing the final exam, with maybe 20% getting a 5, 20% getting a 4, 40% getting a 3 and the remaining 20% getting a 2.
WHAT ABOUT A 1?
Well, a 1 is equivalent to an F. That means that the student did not get it. I explained last February how the ELA teacher that was presenting stated with what I considered a level of pride how none of her students were getting a 1. But here we are with the 2011 and 2012 results and no teacher can make that same statement any longer. Meaning as we continually increase the number of students we are continually increasing the number of students failing and more specifically the number of students getting a final exam score of 1.
The truth is that a score of a 1 is unacceptable and the fact that we have 75 students, out of 445, scoring a 1, shows a real problem with how Attleboro has been doing things. Yes, that is only 17%, but please understand that some classes are doing much worse than others. For example, in the two ELA courses there were only a total of 6 final exam scores of 1, while 16 students scored a 5; while in AP Chemistry there were only 2 students scoring 5 and 25 students who scored a 1!
What this really shows is that the data is important, which is why I’m doing this series. We need to have a real clear understanding of what is working and what is not working. We need to know the trending, meaning what the increased number of students participating is resulting in. We need to understand that when it comes to something like advanced placement courses this is serious and we really need to make sure we are not setting our students up for failure.
AP Score Trending
The spreadsheet above shows the overview of the 2010 – 2012 results. As you can see Attleboro has been going AP crazy over this time. We have increased the number of tests taken from 288 in 2010 to 451 last year. That is an increase of 163 tests… Wow!
Same with the number of students taking the advanced placement courses (it's not 1 for 1 since some students take multiple). We started with 177 in 2010 and that has increased to 301 last year, for an overall student increase of 124… again, wow!
Now even with these overview numbers you can take something away. For example, in our first year we had 37% failing, which increased to 44% in 2011, but which has now decreased to 35% last year. One could say that maybe 2011 was an anomaly, or one could try to make the case that our teachers have become better at teaching this high level of rigor, which resulted in better results. I can see both points of view, especially since we have so dramatically increased the number of students. One good point with these numbers is how it doesn’t seem we’re trying to pile more on the existing students since the number of tests per student has remained the same. Of course that could be false since my guess is many of the new students are only taking 1 course (average is 1.5 per student).
But again the overall numbers are good and all, but they don’t tell the whole story. We must look at the specifics to see where the concerns are…
So this concludes this initial overview of AP. Next time I will be focusing on the ELA courses and look at the trending from 2010 to 2012. My plan will be to continue adding new articles focusing on the overall subject groups of ELA, Science, Social Studies and Math. As I always try to do I will be focusing on both the pros and the cons. Pretty much tell it like it is and put all of it on the table. Only then can we have an honest look at what is and what is not working.