.

Attleboro's Advanced Placement – Social Studies

An honest and balanced look at Attleboro's Advanced Placement Social Studies program and course offerings.

Today I want to continue my series on Attleboro’s Advanced Placement program.  So far in this series I provided an overview of the Advanced Placement program, explaining how a success is measured by both the state educational agency and the organization that administers and monitors the advanced placement program in the nation, and provided a summary of the English Language Arts courses with a focus on trending of the percentage of passing and failing as we have continuously increased student participation. 

Here are the links to those articles:

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

http://attleboro.patch.com/blog_posts/attelboros-advanced-placement-ela

So today I want to stay on the positive side of the discussion and focus on another area where Attleboro has done very well, the Social Studies courses.  Now unlike the ELA courses the Social Studies offerings have changed over the years.  Back in 2010 there was only one course offered, US History.  In 2011 the offerings were increased to include US History, World History and European History.  And then in 2012 the European History course was removed. 

So let’s start with the one course that has been available all along, US History.  Here are the final national exam results for the past three years:

US HISTORY

US History

5

4

3

2

1

% Pass

% Fail

Total

2012

5

6

1

1

1

85.7

14.3

14

2011

3

9

6

0

0

100.0

0.0

18

2010

11

9

10

2

0

93.8

6.3

32

Now here are some great results!  In our first year we had 32 students, with 11 of them receiving the highest score of 5 (equivalent of an A) and 9 receiving a score of 4 (equivalent of a B).  With almost 94% passing I definitely like the idea of expanding this program in year 2.  But in 2011 we actually cut back on the number of students, though that was likely due to the addition of both World History and European History.  One great point was that after dropping down to 18 students (from 32) 100% received a passing grade on the final national exam.  And then in 2012 the number of students was again dropped, slightly, to 14.  We had almost 86% pass the final exam this year, although one student did receive a failing grade of 1 (equivalent of an F).

The one concerning area to me is how something that started off so positive was actually reduced.  Why go from 32 students (with almost 94% passing and no scores of 1) to 18 students?  As explained above this might have been caused by the addition of both World History and European History, so let’s take a look at these now…

WORLD HISTORY

World History

5

4

3

2

1

% Pass

% Fail

Total

2012

6

7

26

6

0

86.7

13.3

45

2011

2

8

12

11

4

59.5

40.5

37

So World History started in 2011 and we maintained it in 2012.  In our first year the results were, well, dreadful.  We had less than 60% receiving a passing final national exam score.  What I find interesting is how in 2012 the number of students was increased (which normally leads to an increase in failures) with a total turnaround of results.  Now we had over 85% receiving a passing final national exam score and no students receiving a failing score of 1.  The obvious fair question is why?

Now I can see how it might take a year for a teacher who has taken on a new AP course to get a full understanding of the course expectations and what needs to be covered, which could account for this.  But at the same time I think this shows how starting slow (meaning with less students in year 1 and slowly increasing) in such rigorous courses is probably for the best.  Would over 40% have failed in 2011 if there were only say 20 students taking the course?  But looking at the positive side of things we now have almost 87% receiving a passing grade on the national final exam, which should be heralded.  We should want to take steps to prevent these percentages from dropping, especially since we have 45 students in the course already, but again, this is a major positive!

So next we have European History, which we only had for the one year:

EUROPEAN HISTORY

European History

5

4

3

2

1

% Pass

% Fail

Total

2011

1

3

8

2

10

50.0

50.0

24

So looking at the results I can kind of see why the decision was made to do away with the course.  With 50% of the students receiving a failing score and worse, almost 42% of the students failing with a final national exam score of 1, something was way off on this one.  Still, 13 students did well and if you look at what happened with World History it makes me wonder what would have happened if we had maintained the course for another year, while not pushing more students into it and/or utilizing some form of gate-keeping, meaning having pre-requisites to be able to establish that a student is ready to take on the rigor of this course.  Since World History went from 37 students and over 40% failing, to 45 students and only 13.3% failing; could we have done the same with European History?

Of course there are many factors that go into these decisions, including things like losing staff members and such.  And since I am not privy to that information I will not try to make assumptions.  But the question is fair, I think...

SUMMARY

So again, I think the Social Studies offerings are a bright star in this whole advanced placement program, but there are definitely some things that can be taken away…

First, we started back in 2010 with one course and 32 students.  And with that limited focus we did absolutely amazing!  In 2011 we expanded the Social Studies program, possibly too much at one time.  By adding two new courses in the same subject area in the same year we ended up adding 47 students (a 157% increase) but watered down what had already proven itself to be working.  This increase led to some major issues, with 27 failures (as compared to 2 the previous year), which equated to almost 60% of the students that year.  It appears this also led to the need to do away with one of the offerings in an attempt to “right the ship”. 

The number of students taking AP Social Studies dropped last year from 79 to 59, but the ship has indeed been righted!  We now sit right where we should be, minimally, with over 85% passing and only 1 failing score of 1.  At the same time this past year we only had 14 US History students, and only 18 the year before, as compared to 32 in our first year.  Now remembering how well we did in this subject in the first year I can’t help wonder why we’ve stayed so low in participation these past two years.  Maybe we overloaded in year 1 so the participation had to drop in the next couple of years, but this definitely seems like an appropriate place to add participation (as long as we can maintain the positives).

Looking at the overall state results it seems like the Social Studies AP courses are higher, as compared to most of the other course offerings.  Not sure why that might be and there of course might be many different factors that could account for this, but I think the point here is that this is one area where we would want to ensure the positives, as well as have higher expectations, while looking to push ourselves.  Maybe it is time to bring back that European History course, as long as we don’t try to go too far (meaning keeping the class sizes down and to students who have proven themselves ready for the college level rigor).  Maybe we want to promote that US History course more, as long as we take steps to maintain the high results (meaning keeping participation to the students who have proven themselves ready for the college level rigor).  Now I may not agree with all of the decisions that have been made in order to get where we are in this area, but overall the main point here is that Attleboro’s AP Social Studies is a very bright star in Attleboro's advanced placement program!

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.

Tobey Reed November 26, 2012 at 01:54 PM
Hello Mr. Stors, My name is Tobey Reed and I am the Social Studies Coordinator at Attleboro High School. I believe that I can shed some light on some of your questions and can correct some misconceptions. First, thank you for considering us a "bright star" of the program. I believe that the students and the staff work very diligently to be successful and I think that this is the aspect that should be focused on. A few points: AP European History has been around for a while, we offer it based on the number of sign-ups for the class. I believe that the reason that it wasn't offered in 2012 was because of the semester schedule limiting the classes that students could take and the fact that MMSI was supporting English, Math, and Science offerings with cash incentives and not history. Students signed up for AP classes in their senior year but not that course. It is still in the course catalog and will continue to be offered. I believe the drop in AP US is attributed to similar findings. When we did an exit poll of the sophomores that took AP World History most of them did not sign up for AP US and a lot of them were honest that they were not getting the support in history classes. The introduction of AP World and AP European history have absolutely no bearing on AP US. AP World is a sophomore only course and AP Euro is a senior only course. AP US is a junior course.
Tobey Reed November 26, 2012 at 02:03 PM
My main issue with your analysis is your use of the term "Pass" and "Fail" in regard to AP scores. A score of a two means "Possibly Qualified" and a 1 means "No recommendation" according to the College Board (http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/ap/exgrd_set.html) In the year that students got a two or a one in AP US history none of the students "failed" the class. The class and the test score are related but students can and do successfully complete the course without success on the test. This is especially true for AP World history where the students grow immensely but still fall short of the national test where they are competing against 11th and 12th graders who have taken AP tests before. AP World was introduced two years ago and is offered for sophomores. We have no Pre-SAT data on the sophomores to predict their success on AP exams, they have no basis of understanding what is entailed in an AP exam as this is the first one they will encounter.
Tobey Reed November 26, 2012 at 02:03 PM
I believe that the positive aspects of taking the class (time management, study skills, reading comprehension, discipline, etc) are a huge advantage to the students for years to come, regardless of the score they get on a single test at the end. To say that the students who got a 1 or a 2 were "failures" seems harsh to me and I think that some of the students who struggled through the class but at the end felt like they had accomplished something and were proud of their achievement would feel slighted by your "failure" comments. The test and the course are integrally tied together but must also remain as two distinct things. Students can learn a lot from a course and grow tremendously that a single test score can not capture.
Jim Stors November 26, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Mr. Reed, First thank you for posting your points. You have helped shed some light on some of the details that were not known. I truly believe that the AP Social Studies program is a "bright star" so I commend and thank you for your obvious hard work! I am a bit confused about your explanation of why AP European History was not offered last year since it was offered last year and the schedule has been the same (though I know it is changing), but I do understand your point about MMSI supporting math and science but not social studies. But still, I can't see how the schedule enabled 24 students to take the course in 2011 and then none in 2012? I appreciate your honesty about the student feedback of not receiving the support they needed. I can definitely see how this would negatively impact students signing back up for another history class, which could indicate that the additional classes did impact US History participation.
Jim Stors November 26, 2012 at 03:30 PM
I totally understand that the "pass" and "fail" test scoring is problematic to many, but I am just using what College Board and DESE use as quantifiers. I don't think anyone argues a score of 3 or higher is what colleges look for, which is why it is considered a "pass". I totally understand that even if the student fails the final exam that they can still pass the class, though that brings up other concerns as to why the student failed the final when they know the information (which would hopefully be required to pass the class). Yes, the College Board website defines a final exam score of 2 as "possibly qualified" (although no college will accept it) and a score of 1 as "no recommendation" (though most agree that a score of 1 is a good indicator that the student was not ready for the college level rigor of the clas). But at the same time there is a reason why the statistics are broken into scores of 3, 4 and 5 and scores of 1 and 2. I do agree that most of the students scoring a 2 on the final exam are getting a lot out of the course, which was something I discussed in the article, but College Board defines a score of 5 as an A, score of 4 as a B and a score of 3 and a C, which logically concludes that a score of 2 equates to a D and a score of 1 to an F. I totally agree about the positives, but I think it is also obvious that some students are not ready, which can negatively impact the class. Unfortunately the test scores is all we have to analyze the program.
Tobey Reed November 26, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Mr. Stors, Thank you for your reply. Let me clarify the AP Euro question. We did offer the course last year and there were not enough students signed up to run it. It is my belief based on the feedback that we received from students that the increase of AP Science/English/Math classes forced students to make a choice and history lost that choice so we did not have the numbers to run the course but we are hoping that this will change in the future. Second, I understand that the College Board equates a 5 to an A and a 4 to a B and a 3 to a C but they stop there. They don't want you to "logically conclude" because if they did they would say it. What they are saying is that they don't have enough information to recommend college credit. I agree that the test and the class are linked but there are a variety of reasons why a student might not do well on a specific test on a specific day (nerves, fear, lack of preparedness, etc) that colleges do look to see what students take and taking an AP (even without a qualifying score) is something that they encourage. Although there might "some students who are not ready". I don't think that they negatively impact the class that much and I feel like they are more prepared as a result of taking the class. Thank you, Tobey Reed
Jim Stors November 26, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Mr. Reed, again thank you for your feedback. I think your last point is the big debate of AP, which is where this series will ultimately lead. It might be true that in some subjects, such as social studies, these issues are lessened than is say math and science. But I am sure you would have to agree that there are many questions to the benefits and the cons of students who may not be prepared for college level rigor in 10th, 11th or even in 12th grade being coaxed (which happens for some) into AP. Here's some simple points... 1. AP is great, but we shouldn't want students taking it simply to boost their application. We should want students who want to take this higher level course in order to learn more. 2. Honors level is also great and for many this is enough of a challenge. Honors is also valued by colleges. But the trend seems to be cutting back honors to increase student participation in AP. 3. Not all students are ready for AP, nor should they be. The average student is, well average. That doesn't mean they can't push themselves, which again is a good reason why honors level is needed. 4. Having students in a college level class who are not ready can and likely will either negatively impact them or their classmeates. Either the class has to slow down or they have to be left behind. 5. We shouldn't want to see AP classes watered down. 6. We shouldn't want to see teachers having to teach to the test. I'll be geting into this more in the coming weeks.
Jim Stors November 27, 2012 at 03:38 PM
With the discussion between Mr. Reed and myelf (above) I thought it would be useful to provide an outside perspective from someone who most would agree is a distinguished source. The following is a quote taken from a Harvard Education Letter from 2010, written by Lucy Hood, taken from an interview with Professor Phillip Sadler, regarding the book he co-edited titled AP: A Critical Examination of the Advanced Placement Program: "Have some mechanisms in place to make sure that students are prepared for this course, and probably most important, monitor the AP exam scores that kids get when they take the exams. That means everybody who takes an AP course should also take the AP exam. That’s the only way an administrator is going to know whether the course is successful or not. The grade that the teacher gives to students is not highly correlated with the AP exam score. The grades that teachers give are not a proxy or a replacement for AP exam scores." I think all of Professor Sadler's points (above and within the letter) are very interesting and raise other issues that I will be getting into when I conclude this series. Though I believe that this one quote shows that experts agree in the value of using the test scores as a determination of success, of having some form of gatekeeping and how the teacher grade should not be used (solely) to determine success. Later this week I'll be providing my article on Attleboro's Advanced Placement focusing on our Math courses.

Boards

More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something