Growth of AP - sort of

In the Advanced Learning work session there was a slide that showed the growth of AP and IB in the District. It is true that many more students are taking AP classes than ever before. But it doesn't necessarily mean what you think it means.

Take, for example, Roosevelt High School. At Roosevelt about half of the 10th grade students used to take AP European History. This is typically the first AP available to students, one of the few open to 10th grade students on the typical pathway. The class is challenging for 10th grade students and the fact that about half of the students took it is a testament to Roosevelt's academic strength. The other half of the students took a history class similar to the one that students all across district and the state take in the 10th grade.

Some folks at Roosevelt didn't like that. They didn't like the fact that about half of the students were self-selecting to take on the challenge and rigor of AP European History. Even more, they didn't like the fact that about half of the students were NOT self-selecting the class, the challenge, or the rigor. So they came up with a solution. Now every 10th grader at Roosevelt has to take AP Human Geography. Every one of them, both those who would have taken the regular history class and those who would have taken AP European History.

AP Human Geography, although it is also an AP class, is not comparable to AP European History in rigor. It is intended to be a one semester class instead of a two semester class. At Roosevelt, it is stretched across two semesters. Moreover, the class is not taught as a college level class (as AP classes typically are), but with material with a ceiling at a 10th grade reading level. So, yes, more students are taking an AP class, but you could not say that students were taking more rigorous classes. Half of them maybe, half of them definitely not.

You might wonder why the school didn't simply substitute AP Human Geography for the old history class so that half of the students would still take the more rigorous AP European History and half would take the AP Human Geography. The answer is obvious. While that would have addressed the academic problem - lack of rigor for students in the old history class - it would not address the political problem of some students - primarily White and Asian middle class students - self-selecting more rigor while other students - disproportionately Black and Latino and FRE students - self-selecting less rigor. The politics trumped the academics.

This pattern is now repeating itself in other schools. Where high performing students self-selected challenge that option is being taken away from them and they are placed, along with every other student, in a less challenging class with a label that implies more challenge than the class represents.


seattle said…
Yes, I wonder about Hale's mandatory for all AP Eng Lit (11th grade), and AP composition (12th grade). Does anyone know more about it?
Michael said…
" would not address the political problem of some students - primarily White and Asian middle class students - self-selecting more rigor while other students - disproportionately Black and Latino and FRE students - self-selecting less rigor. The politics trumped the academics."

Finally, someone had the cajones to put that in writing.
reader said…
Wow. Such a tragedy, and a travesty. And a great platform to run for school board on. Keep the APs clean for us!
Charlie Mas said…
It's not about "keeping AP White". It's about allowing students to take on all of the rigor that they want to accept.

By all means, replace the old history class with AP Human Geography if you want. That's a positive step. But don't replace AP European History with it. That's a step backwards.
Hélène said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hélène said…
Thanks for pointing out this sad state of affairs. As a teacher, it just breaks my heart. Several of my great students at Garfield are heading to private school, UW academy, etc because they didn't find the rigor or focus they wanted in high school classes, including honors and AP classes.

On the other end of the spectrum, students who operate several grade levels below their nominal grade are essentially being denied education by being forced into classes they have no chance of understanding much of anything from.

There are a couple of somewhat recent articles about this issue at a national level: one on increasing AP failure rates and an argument that AP helps students, even if they fail (I don't buy it, but an interesting study)
Jet City mom said…
it's like saying we have people who wear size 5 shoes all the way up to 12, but because size 8 is the average- that is what every one is going to wear.

Ya that works-eyeroll.
Jet City mom said…
Speaking as a blue collar parent of first gen college kids- I look at AP classes as a way to prepare my kids for college work and to give them an opportunity to reduced needed credits ( and expenses) for a college diploma.
( not saying AP is the only way- by any means)

By reducing the rigor, by diluting the class by making interest & aptitude in the subject superfluous, they are limiting ALL these students choices.
dan dempsey said…

Try this for cajones.

Rich, Black, Flunking

Cal Professor John Ogbu thinks he knows why rich black kids are failing in school. Nobody wants to hear it.
seattle citizen said…
Here's a recent crazy related article (6.18.10) from the Seattle Times. Turns out that the state is demanding that school identify ethnicities of students, even if students don't submit the "checklist" form on ethnicity - school staff is to determine what ethnicity(s) a student is!

Can someone tell me what good it does a student to be identified by ethnicity? Can someone tell me how on earth schools are to determine ethnicity, and how that wouldn't perpetuate myraid stereotypes and generalizations that are BAD for students?

anne said…

Is it really a problem even at GHS with the high number of APP students there to fill the classes? Why do they need to drop the rigor in those classes?
14parent said…
On 6/16/10 Bruce Ramsey and Lynne Varner in the Seattle Times had a brief discussion about AP Euro and AP human Geo.

Much more interesing than their brief discussion were the 23 COMMENTS from the students, teachers, and parents. These are the ones who have to live with the realities of the changes made by our administrators.

Here is the link to the Seattle
times comments. I urge everyone with interest to read EVERY comment!
Dorothy Neville said…
Honestboy --- in the comments on the Varner/Ramsey debate, has it right on the money. AP HG is a social science class (NOT a history class) and gives equal weight to all sorts of cultural items, such golf course saturation and the black plague. It would be a very interesting class that could have fascinating discussions IF offered to upperclassmen who already knew the major facts and trends and theories of history. Since the 10th graders don't, there isn't rigorous meaningful discussion.

A big issue is that 6th grade World History at Eckstein is Eastern Hemisphere and 8th grade World History at Roosevelt is defacto Eastern Hemisphere as well. That's one of the complaints I heard from many parents and seems to really be the issue in the Varner/Ramsey debate. As Lynne put it in a comment, "is an attempt to broaden students intellectually or a fad meant to devalue the impact of Europeans?" Note that some people in the comments had substantive reasons for believing the latter. Lynne believes the former. However, she only addressed someone whom she considered name calling and unproductive. She did not address the more thoughtful criticism of her belief.

She wants to give equal thought to Voltaire and some ancient Egyptians. Well, from my son's experience, the study of Egypt was shallow enough not to afford any meaningful discussion of these figures and without ANY European history, they never even hear about Voltaire.

On my son's first AP HG test (from the publisher) there were a couple questions that the teacher ended up not counting for the grade, because they relied on some basic knowledge of European history.

So, the particular issue of removing a history class, and one that undoubtedly is useful for understanding the world and current affairs with a social science class that isn't really meaningful unless one knows some history. That's the Euro vs HG aspect. the AP aspect is a whole other issue.
Dorothy Neville said…
Now to address the AP for all issue.

When RHS announced their change, I had a lengthy email exchange with Jay Mathews of the Washington Post. Undoubtedly the most vocal AP supporter and the most vocal of the AP should not have barrier trend.

His comments on widening AP to all:

"i do have some well-informed views on the watering down issue. this has been raised when many other schools like Roosevelt have opened up their AP classes to all comers, violating the restrictive policies in place in most high schools, and have worked hard to encourage even average kids to try AP. This is not the same as requiring all to take it, but it had introduced many more kids who have less preparation and motivation than the usual AP kid. This has happened in every high school in Northern Virginia, and many others in the DC suburbs and DC itself, as wellas other parts of the country. Here is my conclusion based on the data, and the reaction of students and parents like you: As long as the school requires all AP students to take the AP tests (and in the case of No. Va., pays the AP test fees) there is NO watering down. Nada, zilch. The passing rates do go down, but the classes remain tough. It has been ten years since Fairfax County opened up AP to all and required the tests for all AP students. The passing rate went from 75 to 61 in the first year, and is now inching back up to about 66 percent. I feared dumbing down, and angry calls from smart parents with smart kids, like you. So far, in ten years, ZERO calls, or emails. Teachers will not dumb down the course if they know they will be caught, and having everyone take the test means they will be caught if they do that.

Maybe Roosevelt will be different. I don't think so, but let me know if I am wrong. i assume they are requiring everyone to take the AP test. Whether they will provide the extra time that some kids need to learn remains to be seen. But Jaime Escalante did it. A lot of other AP teachers I know are doing it. So it CAN be done. --jay"

Note that RHS did not have restrictive policies in place. AP Euro was open to anyone who elected it. And also note that they are NOT requiring AP HG kids to take the AP test. (Of course any conclusions drawn now would be subject to the denying the antecedent fallacy...)
Dorothy Neville said…
At one of the Fall PTSA meetings at RHS this year, Brian Vance gave a little presentation declaring the first year of AP HG a success. I don't know if he would be willing to put his powerpoint on-line or share it, because I kinda sorta picked it apart at the meeting. (Yes, the freedom to be on the PTSA board when your kid no longer is at the school. I got mouthy and I got a LOT of thank yous from parents for it.)

One of the reasons he gave for the success is that polling the kids at the end of the year, something like 54% said they feel ready to take another AP course. I pointed out that before they required 100% of the 10th graders to take AP HG, historically, 50% of the 10th graders elected to take AP Euro. So exactly how significant is the 54%? What percent of 11th graders historically took at least one AP course? At 11th grade level, there are lots more options. So who knows, that 54% could actually be a decrease in students feeling prepared for an AP course.

What pisses me off the most about the misuse of graphs and statistics from both Vance and the SS department chair regarding the AP HG class, is that one of the stated objectives of HG is to increase understanding of graphs and charts.
Charlie Mas said…
I hear this a lot from Seattle Public Schools. They say that they want to increase something or improve something, but they don't have a current measure of it.

How can you say that you want to increase participation in ALOs if you don't know how many students are participating in ALOs now?

How can you say that the 54% of students who feel ready and willing to take an AP course in the 11th or 12th grade is more or less than it was before if you don't know what it was before? It's an absurd statement, but typical of the style.
14parent said…
The logic at Roosevelt,as they explained in their handout, was that European History was studied indirectly. - By studying Imperialism in 10th [by studying European colonies in 3rd world.] They would study some European history in APHG [in constant brief mentioning in every chapter.] They would study age of European Enlightenment in 11th by studying the American Revolution and ideas. They also claim many students could take AP European History in 11th or 12th as elective. Of course many students might prefer a much more "fun" course in the few electives.

Nevertheless, this didn't happen because -European History has DISAPPEARED from the 2010-2011 course catalogue and was not offered on the 11th grade course selection.

I don't think the RHS SS department respects or wants to teach European History. If they bring it back, I would demand they bring in a new teacher with a love of European History. I would be afraid they would "stick it to us" and give us the worst teacher on the staff -and make it a nightmare for us and our children. I have one coming into Roosevelt next year. There are some powerful employees at Roosevelt and believe the school belongs to them.

I'm afraid that the narrative of European history is doomed forever in Seattle. I think there is an attempt to replace the historical narrative that exist in over 95% of United States schools with - social science, political science and economics.

While I never studied European History after high school [I major in a scientific field], I have a profound love for the historical narrative. I feel very sad and powerless to effect change.

I have an 8th grader at Eckstein. There is very little European History there. The little that exists is studied indirectly.
It starts with Washington State History, then structure of government and morphs to political science -study communism, etc.This included a study of latin America and especially cuba and castro. Then they did a complicated IRP on the economy. I called this political science and economics and Washington State History.
Dorothy Neville said…
14parent, yes, I made a typo. These tiny comment boxes and my aging eyes, sigh.

I meant that "world history" is covered in middle school in 6th grade, and Eckstein is honest enough to call the course Eastern Hemisphere. It's the 9th grade World history class at Roosevelt that also covers Eastern Hemisphere with nothing on Western thoughts or ideas. But the course is called World History.

So kids get Egypt, but no Greece. Chinese Dynasties but no European Monarchies.

Oh, and one of the promises the SS teachers at RHS said was that they would start covering more of Europe in 9th grade to account for the 10th grade changes. But at least one place where this was stated said that it meant covering European Imperialism and Colonialism. So all the bad but not the why or how or context? And from informally asking some of this year's 9th grade students, the curriculum has not changed to increase Western Hemisphere history.

Seriously, I just do not get it. Human Geography is all about patterns of culture, migrations of people and culture etc. How in the world can one analyze and thoughtfully understand the migrations of the people of the world when an entire continent's history has been suppressed?
zb said…
what exactly is the "eastern hemisphere?" I'm not trying to be snarky but I thought the Western hemisphere was the Americas. That would put Europe in the eastern hemisphere. Is the complaint that in studying the Eastern hemisphere there's no special emphasis on Europe? Or that it's ignored completely?
14parent said…

your correct. Others and myself have used that word incorrectly. Eastern hemisphere was meant to exclude the Americans and Europe.

At Roosevelt, it is officially called World History. Europe is not considered part of their world. It must be on the moon then.

There is almost no study of Europe in 9th grade.

Here is the official course description.

Ninth grade classes
World History I/Language Arts 9 Block
2 periods, ½ credit each semester per course
World History I and II include the study of culture-regions focused on the peoples who live in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The study of the many regions of Asia includes geography, history and cultural, political and economic characteristics with emphasis on the contemporary scene. The course of study for the Middle East and Africa includes units on the Muslim World and Africa south of the Sahara. By studying major culture areas, students will better understand current and changing conditions in the world. This course is taught in a block with LA9, incorporating projects that integrate the history and literature of each region while also providing a supportive learning community.
Tenth grade classes
Human Geography Advanced Placement (AP)
1 periods, ½ credit each semester
The main goal of this class is to introduce students to the study of geography as a social science by emphasizing the relevance of geographic concepts to human problems. The text relates economic change to the distribution of languages and religions, population growth and migration, and the availability of natural resources such as energy and food supply. Particular attention is given to the conflict between two important themes – globalization and cultural diversity. This course asks students to move beyond simply locating and describing regions to considering how and why they come into being and what they reveal about the changing character of the world in which we live.
Maureen said…
In the five years of 6th-10th grade in SPS, my son has spent at least twice as much time on the post colonial history of Pakistan as he has on the entire post-Roman Empire history of Europe. Europe was mentioned during the WWII part of American history in 8th grade so he does know about Fascism. I think he's learned about Pakistan every year since 7th.
14parent said…
Dorothy or someone who knows:

How did the RHS SS dept this modification in the curriculum through the RPTA and other parents? I found out about it the last week in June 2008 while my oldest was at Eckstein. To late to do anything about it.

There are been a couple negative articles in the RHS student news [see 23 comment from Seattle Times] but I havent't heard anyone else complain except in the Seattle Times.

My assumption is that the parents like the change and everyone is happy. Can that really be?
Dorothy Neville said…
14parent, I do not think you are correct. I do not think parents and kids are overall happy with the change. That's based just on a lot of anecdotes, running into fellow parents at various events and chatting. No formal survey has been done.

As for how the SS made this change, which affected graduation requirements, well, it was kinda sorta announced and we were supposed to give feedback to Vance. Search this blog for more discussion.

As for Eckstein and Eastern Hemisphere. I cannot find a course description on their website, but one of the 6th grade SS teachers has a website and maintained a blog of topics covered. Note that Medieval Europe is in the Syllabus, but flip through the blog, you will see that it wasn't covered. Ancient Greek and the Roman Empire were, but compare how many weeks they spent on Egypt to those on Greeks and Romans.

Also note on blog entries for topics covered that Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are covered, but nowhere could I see where Judaism or Christianity are mentioned.
Hélène said…
Anne: yes, because pressure exists on all kids to take AP classes, whether they're prepared or not. There's another aspect which was going on when I was a student, too -- there aren't great options for "middle" students and for many makes more sense to take an overly challenging course than to essentially be baby-sat. The result is that in many AP classes, a few students really can't keep up and the teacher has to decide between slowing down to include them or just plowing ahead.

That was my experience with teaching AP Computer Science, and I'm somewhat more likely to get really motivated students since it's an elective. I didn't slow down but it was difficult from a classroom management standpoint to have students who were very lost and really couldn't be working on the same material.
Sahila said…
Not sure where to put this, seeing this is the only active thread focusing on learning right now...

Interesting read (pardon the pun) here on "Slow Reading"...

maybe we should apply this thinking to other subjects as well, including math.... maybe to the whole concept of schooling????
14parent said…

I hope your correct but I haven't heard many people making statements about it. Except for a few of us, there seems to be no public outrage. Only 23 comments, maybe from 15 or so people made it on the editorial by B Ramsey & Varner. But maybe because not many read it.

Dorothy, I searched through this community blog and idn't find much except Melissa's comment about Vance's remarks.

Let's assume the truth is, most people are too busy making a living and raising their children and it's not very productive fighting the school system over it.

All this talk about "Rigor", I'm starting to think the schools may suffer from "rigor mortis" soon if they don't come to their senses.
seattle said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dorothy Neville said…
14Parent, there were several posts regarding the AP HG thing, probably April 2008 or so. I'll see if I can find them. It was also discussed on Harium's blog.

I think people are just beaten down and have bigger issues on their plate. Plus, even though the students protested and some parents disapproved, they just ignored it and so there's nothing to do.

And just wait, they are at it again. You know, I assume, that the RHS LA department --- which was completely against AP or any class that segregates kids by ability, motivation or achievement --- now much provide an AP course. So they have decided that it will be AP Composition and that every student will take it. AP for all, no self-selecting of more rigor allowed, no self-selecting to allow highly motivated kids who want to segregate themselves away from the unmotivated behavior problem students. Nope, now in LA as well as SS, the well behaved students are uniformly distributed, to dilute the behavior problems instead of allowing them to concentrate in a class deemed less rigorous.
14Parent, there are a couple of things about the AP Human Geography at RHS to note. One is that it was pretty much presented as a done deal. Parents weren't really consulted or asked (big surprised). Parents who had older students who had taken AP European History were very unhappy but many parents didn't understand what it would mean as the school said, oh no, we could still have both. (The reality is that you couldn't fit both in.)

Another is that we were assured there would be supports for students not used to this rigor and that it would remain a rigorous class.

All I can tell you is that parent interest and participation drops off in high school except for activities their child is participating in. The academics tend to be very hands off no matter how hard you can try to ask questions or get involved. The teachers only want you involved as long as it helps their side, otherwise, they aren't particularly interested in your opinion or concern.

Many parents don't learn about these issues or realize the outcomes to their own student until after change occurs.

When I was co-president at RHS, we tried pretty hard to get parents to come to meetings. We did sessions with every department, thinking parents would be interested in learning what was happening in the academics. I thought the teachers gave good presentations with updates on what was coming but still, very few parents attended.
Maureen said…
14Parent, I'm withholding my final judgement until we get our kid's APHG test score back. But my major issue with the course is that there seems to be no consistency in the rigor that is applied. One of my kids friends wrote multiple papers and really struggled with the work load. My kid breezed along with a different teacher--basically just filling out chapter summaries every week. Now if that difference were advertised in some way and you got to select the level of rigor, that might be ok, but given that the kids are just assigned to the teacher by the counseling office, that doesn't seem right. I'm thinking that we wasted our $86. (I know, I should have made my kid work through a study guide on the side, but I didn't.)
Anonymous said…
Maureen, what you experienced is really nothing new. When I was in high school back in the dark ages, there were 2 physics sections. One was taught by the department chair, who was more than ready for retirement. Kids chose his section if they wanted physics on their transcript but were not able/willing to really put their noses to the grindstone. Those who took the other guy knew they'd struggle, even if they were top students, because it was taught as a college level course (although without credit, as we did not have AP back then).

I got the only "D" in my life in that course, but I was able to tutor kids the following year in my college dorm who were taking the same course with the same book-with LESS rigor.

In my own modest high school there were such disparities in all the subjects-and all the kids knew which was which. I'm not sure how a school would, or SHOULD "advertise" such disparities in classes-surely they're SUPPOSED to be taught in the same way. This speaks more to the teachers than anything related to the district's handling of anything, short of removing the teachers who allow kids to slide by.
Maureen said…
agibean, I never claimed this was new or even unusual, and I'm not blaming the District per se. I think if a school administration decides to require every kid to take an AP class, the admin and counselors should be required to assure some fidelity of implementation. The least they should do is compare syllabi and make sure that the major assignments are similar. When they don't even try, it becomes very clear that the whole point is just to raise their stats at USNews and not to expose all of the kids to a rigorous course.

If they cannot assure similar rigor then they should allow the kids to choose which section they enroll in. They should not arrange it so only the counselors know who will teach which section and have the counselors assign kids to the classes either randomly or purposefully so that the motivated and non are equally represented in each class. (As far as I can tell, you can't request a specific teacher--you have no control over what section you are assigned to --although those with connections may know something that I don't.)
A. Giddings said…
As teachers, we should help our students learn their potential and seek it. We lie to them if we tell them they are doing AP work, when we've watered it down (and there's a potential ethical issue as well witht he AP audit - that may not be an AP class at all).

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