AP in High Schools

This article about AP classes appeared in this morning's Times. It's a longish article (for the Times) and has some interesting things to say on both sides. I think there is a both sides to this issue. Maybe sometime they can go more in-depth and talk about AP, IB, Running Start AND the new UW in the High Schools program. From the article:
  • As Bellevue expanded its AP program, it developed a common set of curriculum guidelines, which start in kindergarten. The goal: to prepare all students to take at least one AP or IB class by the time they reach high school. Interesting because Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is laying the groundwork in the same way with curriculum alignment. She is expanding AP and IB programs, and has said she wants every student to take at least one AP course before graduation.
  • Bellevue students were earning about 200 college credits through AP classes when Riley arrived; in 2009, the number reached 5,800.
  • AP and the IB program are a kind of academic brand name. Washington admissions directors say a 3 or higher on the 5-point AP exam, or a 4 or above on the 7-point IB test, tells them that a student has done well on a national test designed to measure mastery of college-level material.

    "There's absolutely no doubt whatsoever, having done that work, it has a huge effect on what is associated with good outcomes," said Philip Ballinger, the director of admissions at the UW. (Ballinger is also on the AP advisory committee for the College Board.)

  • Washington was once among the states with few AP participants, but in 2008 one-quarter of the state's students took one or more AP exams. That year, the state ranked 16th among all states for the percentage of seniors — 15.5 percent — who scored a 3 or higher on an AP exam.
  • For example, at Seattle's Cleveland High in 2009, just three of the 36 AP exams administered received a passing grade. Fifty-three exams were administered at Rainier Beach High; six received a college-ready score. I would like to insert here that at RBHS, one student scored a 5 on an AP test (the top score) which is something that doesn't happen a lot anywhere.
  • Some Seattle educators think AP classes make a difference by pushing students to do college-caliber work, even if they do not pass the final exams. Research has shown that even taking an AP class, students do better in college.
  • Students in Chief Sealth's IB program differ on its effect. Senior Paul Duncan says IB and non-IB students mix well together, but another senior, Jan Nicholas, thinks the school has become split — "gentrified" — by IB. I haven't heard this about Ingraham but I'm sure there are opinions on all sides.
  • Seattle's Nathan Hale High School is trying a different approach. At Hale, both AP and non-AP students take the same U.S. history class because "it's not OK just to prepare kids in the honors class or the Spectrum (highly capable) class," said Principal Jill Hudson. "We believe in rigor all the way across the board."

    But some AP students say blended classes slow down the learning. Nightly class readings for AP students are out of sync with class discussions, for example.

    "I don't think the system works at Hale at all," said AP student Sophie Hallam-Eames, a junior. "I didn't learn the material well."

  • Rubio echoed a concern voiced by other AP teachers and college-admissions officers: that AP has become so essential to getting into a good college that some students take too many classes, burning themselves out.

    "I can't tell you how many kids get by on three or four hours of sleep," Rubio said.

    At a national level, there's been a recent backlash against AP at some public and private schools, which have dumped them in favor of classes that teach fewer topics but do so in greater depth, with an emphasis on creativity and exploration.

    Lakeside School, a prestigious private school in the Seattle area, dropped the courses about eight years ago so its teachers could have the freedom to follow their interests, said Than Healy, the director of Lakeside's upper school and assistant head of school. Even without the classes, a large percentage of Lakeside students take and pass the AP tests.


uxolo said…
Colleges want to see that the applicant is taking the most difficult classes (currently known as AP or IB nationally). If the school does not offer these, that's fine. The supt. needs to a) go on some college tours and b) go on some tours of our elementary school classrooms where kids cannot read or write or do math. She should take a few principals with her or give them some recognition for requiring the teachers to use procedures and materials that are known to be effective. Seattle is in the dark when it comes to interventions - the move to IDENTIFY struggling learners (and learning environments) is going on nationwide -- called RTI. It is not happening here. That's why some of Hale's kids are not likely to do well on an AP exam. Their academic history has them in high school classes where they can LEARN HOW to study, take notes, take tests, write essays, etc.,, not merely be REQUIRED to do these things at the college level.
And why is Jill Hudson pretending there are Spectrum-identified kids at high school? That identity is gone by grade 9.
You do hit some good key points, Uxolo. I know kids learn computer skills but I know my kids weren't taught anything about note-taking, how to study for tests (which becomes quite key for the SAT/ACT), writing essays, etc. The weird thing, too, about writing essays is that if they do, they get no feedback on it. To become a better writer, you have to get feedback on specifics.
SolvayGirl said…
Melissa...there is definitely a problem with feedback on writing and it goes all the way to the top. When I saw my daughter's 4th grade WASL, I looked to see why she got a 3 rather than a 4 in writing. She usually scored quite high on other standardized writing tests, had scored high on a private test and was always given good feedback from teachers about her writing. So I wanted to see what she needed to improve. There was not ONE comment or other sort of mark on her writing—nothing to give me, or a teacher, any clue as to how to help her improve her writing.

I write for a living, and read the piece. It had been an odd prompt, but I thought she did well with it. The structure was sound; her grammar and punctuation were spot on; and her "imaginative" elements pretty good. Without feedback, I could only conclude that the test reviewer did not like her "idea."

All writers need feedback; that's why God made editors. Without feedback on writing—good or bad, writers will never know how well they made their point, etc., or learn the principles of writing.
I don't know if you saw the thread about the op-ed in the NY Times from a guy who used to score assessment tests. He got an essay from a high school student on Debbie Does Dallas. He was quite perplexed what to do as it was well written but about...Debbie Does Dallas. So he asked other scorers their opinions. Some said F just for subject matter, some said it shouldn't matter what he wrote about and others said dock it down for subject matter and score it for how it was written.

He chose the latter which I thought was wrong. Good writing is good writing even if it's a review of a porno film.
Anonymous said…
Solvay-I think the problem is worse than that with the WASL. It was graded by anyone who passed the short training course-not certified teachers. Just people with a college degree, if I recall correctly.

I was a communications major in college-and I can tell you that no way are everyone with a college degree trained in "correcting" writing tests. I knew many, especially math, science and engineering students who could barely get by in their required English classes. In fact, helping them was one reason I switched majors TO writing.

To think that these people are the ones passing and failing our kids on the WASL has always bothered me.
reader said…
The writing WASL comes with a scoring rubric. The rubric is available on the website. Did you look at the rubric? You may have been able to glean the reasoning if you scored her with points the graders would have given her. I don't think "imaginative" was one of the rubrics. Things like "voice" and considering the reader, and sentence variety, were things to be scored. If you look at the scored samples on the website, they are pretty hard to differentiate. That is, a score of 3 is better than a 1... but not necessarily better than a 2, or worse than a 4.

There's also research indicating that handwriting factors into the score as well. So, if your child has lousy handwriting, her WASL score will likely be impacted.
Unknown said…
The author of today's article made it sound like AP and IB are more or less the same program. No effort was made to explain that many IB courses tend to cover less and go much more in depth than AP courses do. There are major differences in what the assessments ask for too. For example, for Theory of Knowledge, a class taught in more than 2,000 IB schools around the world (inaccurately titled "knowledge theory" in the caption on the front page) uses an analytical essay and an oral presentation to determine the IB grade, not a test.

The student quotes are telling, but not the whole story. I was in the room during much of her interview with the Chief Sealth students and there were other informative comments that were left out, including the story of a student who transferred to the IB program from Garfield because she didn't like the fast-paced cover-it-all approach of AP. Also, Jan, who was quoted as saying his school has become more gentrified, meant just that. He has noticed a change in the demographics of incoming students since the IB program started. The author said that he thinks the school is "split," which is not what he was saying.

It is also important to recognize that there are a few kids who choose to pursue the full IB diploma (the equivalent of taking 6 or 7 AP classes at the same time) and there are many students who choose to take individual IB classes that interest them. There is not a single IB test as the article implies. Like AP, there are subject-specific exams as well as internal and external written and oral assessments.

The reality is that both AP and IB are very challenging programs and many students are not prepared for them. In an IB program, we need to make sure 9th and 10th grade students have the support they need to develop the necessary skills to be successful in IB (11th and 12th grades). This is an ongoing challenge in many IB schools. (Of course, this should not distract schools from making sure ALL students are prepared and supported in whatever classes that choose to take.)

Finally, most parents and educators are not aware of the impact of the recent budget cuts in higher education on Running Start and to a lesser degree on AP and IB students. Many parents push their kids to take as many AP or IB classes as possible ("colleges want to see it") I was at a meeting with several social sciences professors at the UW last month and they informed me that many students who are entering UW with college credits are being locked out of the classes that they want to take. With the state cuts, there is a significant reduction in the number of open seats. This is especially an issue for Running Start students who enter with up to 90 college credits. Many students do not discover their true academic passions until they get to college. One of the history professors said that some of his most brilliant undergraduate students are not being permitted to enroll in the classes that they want and need in order to pursue their interests.

There are now several prominent colleges and universities that are paying less attention to the quantity of AP and IB classes on high school transcripts. They must be realizing that there is something more to school than saving money on college tuition and rushing to get out. It's called learning.
Seattle Teacher, many great points made, thanks. I would like to add that so much gets left out of many stories (or interpreted by the reporter). It is sad because people don't get the total picture. AP and IB ARE totally different and that really needs to be emphasized.

FYI, I had to get a correction printed to a recent story in the PI that "quoted" me as saying the BTA levy would be a waste of money. First, I never even talked to the "reporter" (an intern from UW - this is what passes for journalism at the late great PI). Second, I never said that nor would I have said that.

The "reporter" thought because I was against the BTA levy that ergo I must think it's a waste of money. (She also lifted paragraphs straight from the district not realizing that is copying, not writing.) I couldn't believe she did that but yes, she did and they had to print the correction.

(Future note: check who writes the next PI article you read, their standards have really fallen. I miss Jessica Blanchard.)

Talking to media is a tricky business. They really put a spin on things.
Charlie Mas said…
No one seems to pay much attention to the real reason behind the rush to push students into AP and IB classes. There is the ridiculous BusinessWeek rating, of course, but beyond that, there is this idea that if a lot of the students at a school are taking AP classes that is an indication that the school is preparing these students for college and that the school has academic rigor.

The problem here is that school and district administrators are now working to run up the statistics that are supposed to indicate college prep and rigor instead of working to actually improve and increase the college prep and the rigor itself.

Due to their obsessive focus on this indicator, it no longer indicates anything other than their effort to goose the number.

Think of Roosevelt with the AP Human Geography requirement for all 10th grade students. That school's AP participation rate will approach 100%, but the rigor was actually diminished with the change. Prior to that requirement, about 50% of the school's students were taking AP European History in the 10th grade, a much more challenging course.

Through the warped focus on the statistic, and the effort applied to goose the number, it no longer indicates what it once did. If the number is skewed in this way, it becomes meaningless as an indicator of either college prep or rigor.
hschinske said…
The headline is in error -- they're calling Advanced Placement courses "college prep" classes, when they're supposed to be beyond that and into actual college-level work.

Helen Schinske
zb said…
"One of the history professors said that some of his most brilliant undergraduate students are not being permitted to enroll in the classes that they want and need in order to pursue their interests."

This is the "over-credits" problem (I don't know if it's called that), but kids should be taking it seriously if they're using Running Start & or other methods of having college credits when they enter (Community college?). I don't think AP will matter, 'cause you're not required to use your "AP" credits. I've heard of students getting locked out of classes (because they have too many credits in the area, for example, in history), and thus, the class wouldn't contribute to getting them the credits they need to graduate. And, kids aren't being allowed to be 5th year seniors in some programs. This is all pretty foreign to me, but it's another issue for people to consider.
zb said…
"When they're supposed to be beyond that and into actual college-level work."

I've always thought this to be a foolish characterization. First, "college-level" has no meaning, since the level will vary with college and course. Second, a significant part of the learning in a discussion heavy interactive class (i.e. most "humanities") is with other students.

There might be some classes where AP work might really be "college-level" but it'd have to be something that's pretty pure knowledge & theory (like math/problem solving/physics).

There might be some AP classes somewhere out there that look like college classes somewhere. But the AP test does not make the classes comparable. What the AP test does is give colleges a standardized method of comparing students from different schools (through a common standardized test) that tests a fairly high level of knowledge. But, the test doesn't show that the class is "college-level."
Unknown said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said…
Kids now a days are so smart. When we were just todlers, we don't know how to operate machinery such as microwave oven or a telephone. Right? but now, they know how to operate facebook accounts. so pretty much they learn eLearning
so fast.
hschinske said…
A class you can get college credit for is different than a college prep class. It should be possible to get a perfectly good preparation for college without AP classes. You may not be AHEAD, but you shouldn't be at a remedial level when you get into college, either. That's all I meant.

How well AP classes actually fulfill their promise of a taste of college-level material is another matter (as with anything, it varies a lot by class and by teacher), but there can be no doubt that they are marketed as doing so.

Helen Schinske
Jet City mom said…
It should be possible to get a perfectly good preparation for college without AP classes.

It certainly should be.
Lakeside and SAAS don't have AP classes, but they are also able to hand pick their students looking for high school students who had strong academics in middle school and of course before that in elementary.

When public high schools are under pressure to make up the gaps for students that were years in the making, the structure of IB & AP give clear guidelines and can help students be successful- as long as support is there for students who do not have critical pieces needed ( more math- & writing support for example).

However- teachers in several schools have also developed their own curriculum that is equally as rigorous as AP or IB. Marine Biology at Garfield is quite comprehensive & allowing that AP Biology seems to be a less intensive class, I think it is a good choice for students who are interested in Biology.

( When my daughter attended Summit- a " project based" school, she was able to participate in the Marine BIology field trip with the high school students - to Hawaii- as a middle schooler. This piqued her interest in Marine Bio-and she was fortunate to have some of the best science teachers in the district at that time along and it was fortunate that she was able to go with Summit, since when she was at Garfield , the field trip was over full - including Kathryn Kelsey who is now a middle school resource teacher in science- it is really too bad that we no longer have a K-12 program, because the ability to mentor younger students and to move up to high school electives for more challenge was easy to do and rewarding)

I also want to mention that Environmental Science, a class that was for the " less accomplished" students at Garfield, IMO was very interesting and challenging. My daughter didn't take this class ( which allowed me to chaperone on field trips), and I was very impressed with the students and the material.

If students are using AP to save money- this will only be possible at a 4yr school, community colleges don't use AP for credit or placement.

Many private( out of state) colleges also will restrict AP credit to 4's or 5's on the test and it will be up to the dept to grant credit- some schools requiring students to take intro classes anyway, because the college wants all the students in the upper division to have the same background.
hschinske said…
Community colleges do award credit for AP and IB courses. See for instance http://www.northseattle.edu/enroll/credentials/options.htm#optAP

It's not exactly true that Lakeside has "no AP courses." They no longer have courses recognized by the College Board as AP courses, but in most subjects there are de facto AP courses where many of the students are known to be preparing for specific exams. The pressure to take AP exams is likely much higher than when I was there. In my day, students were actually *discouraged* from taking more than one AP course at a time, though of course some people did.

Helen Schinske
Jet City mom said…
Community colleges do award credit for AP and IB courses.

Thanks for the correction Helen-
I guess I need to update my info, when I worked at NCCC as a college advisor ( which was ten yrs ago) they didn't accept credit and also required their own placement tests for placement into Math and English, not prior coursework on transcripts.
Unknown said…
I hear a lot of anger that AP Euro was replaced with Human Geography in a few North End schools. They are both great courses but they focus on slightly different criteria. AP Euro is a snapshot of 400 years of highly volatile interactions that laid the foundation for what we see today. APHG is a survey that provides the tools to interact with the globalized systems that our society is part of right now. To be successful in APHG you need a strong history foundation which I think should include AP Euro. The courses are made more or less rigorous depending on the instructor because having worked with both content models I can assure you there is the potential for an exemplary amount of rigour in both courses.
Unknown said…
Board of Secondary Education Andhra Pradesh is issue the AP 10th Exam center details.

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