Advanced Classes - For All?

News from OSPI:

More Washington students are taking and passing Advanced Placement exams, according to a national report released today. 

The College Board’s ninth annual “AP Report to the Nation” shows that 20,581 Washington students (or 32.8 percent) in the class of 2012 took at least one AP exam. That number represents an increase of 1,276 (6.6 percent) from 2011 and 12,068 (62.5 percent) from 2002. 

Not only did participation increase again this year, so did scores. In 2012, 20.0 percent of Washington’s 12th graders scored a three or greater – a score that generally qualifies for college credit – on an AP test. In 2011, 18.4 percent of students scored a three or greater; in 2002, 9.6 percent.
The 10.4 percentage-point increase in the past 10 years ranks Washington eighth among all states. The national average for the same period was 7.9 percent. 

“We’re seeing great results all over the state,” said Randy Dorn, state superintendent. “More students are taking AP tests, and more are passing them. And that’s helping them be prepared for college and career.” 

Compared to 2011 results, the number of test takers and college-ready scores increased for all subgroups:
  • American Indian/Alaska native (participation +5.3 percent, college-ready scores +26.0 percent)
  • Asian/Asian American/Pacific Islander (participation +7.1 percent, college-ready scores +9.5 percent)
  • Black/African American (participation +8.5 percent, college-ready scores +6.9 percent)
  • Hispanic/Latino (participation +8.3 percent, college-ready scores +14.5 percent)
  • White (participation +6.2 percent, college-ready scores +7.0 percent)
Washington ranked 15th in the nation with the greatest number of 12th graders (20.0 percent) scoring three or greater on AP exams – Maryland was first at 29.6 percent. The national average was 19.5 percent. 

For more information and to view the “AP Report to the Nation,” including state-by-state results, please visit

End of press release.

Against this backdrop, we learn, from a KUOW report, that legislation has been introduced in both the Washington State Senate and House that would require all high school students who meet basic proficiency on the state exam be automatically enrolled in AP or other advanced classes in every district. 

Now Washington state lawmakers are considering legislation based on a policy in the Federal Way school district that puts all kids who meet basic standards into AP and other advanced classes. The goal is to make more low-income kids of color ready for college.

"This is about sorting. This about elitism. This is about institutional racism. Whether intended or not, that’s what happens" when schools set a high bar for admission to accelerated classes, says Federal Way Superintendent Rob Neu. Neu says, under a 2010 district policy, nearly every middle and high school student in Federal Way who meets the state or district standards in a subject now gets automatically enrolled into AP or other accelerated classes. "

As in the proposed legislation, Federal Way students can opt out of advanced classes with their parents’ permission. But Neu says few do. Now, 70 percent of Federal Way high school students are in advanced classes like AP, and most of them are passing the classes.

"...most kids in Federal Way schools fail their AP tests. The passing rate last school year was just 36 percent, compared to 56 percent nationwide.

Walter Parker is a professor of education and political science at the University of Washington who studies the effects of boosting enrollment in AP classes. Parker says it’s a laudable goal to get more poor kids and kids of color ready for college, but if kids aren’t getting the support they need to succeed, it can send them the wrong message. "So for every student who concludes ‘yes, I can do this, I can do college level work,’ there’s a student who concludes ‘well, I can’t really do this, I must not be cut out for college.’ So we have to worry about whether that’s the kind of identity development we want in adolescence," Parker says.

That could be expensive for districts. For instance, it costs $89 to take each AP test, and Federal Way covers those fees for its students. But Litzow says SB 5243 would provide financial incentives for districts where the most students successfully complete the courses and funding for districts that lack accelerated options. 

I think this is laudable but again, where is the money?  If you have this many more students in those classes, you have to have the trained teachers.  There is also the testing fees and materials.

What is interesting is this bill is sponsored by Senator Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island) who is also sponsoring a bill to pay math/science and special ed teachers more. Sounds good, right?  According to this article over at Crosscut, he is now balking because surprise! it will cost a lot of money.

Sticker shock hit the Senate's Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee Friday morning.

That shock came at a public hearing on a Republican Senate bill to provide bonuses of 10 percent of base pay to math, science and special education teachers. 

The committee staff told the committee that state Office of the  Superintendent  of Public Instruction calculations showed that the bill would cost Washington an extra $69.2 million in 2013-2015, an extra $80 million in 2015-2017 and an extra $83.4 million in 2017-19.

At the same time, the Washington Education Association and the Association of Washington School Principals contended that the state is not suffering from shortages of math and science teachers.

All that gave pause to Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer, chairman of the K-12 Education Committee, and co-sponsor of the bill introduced by Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood. Litzow said the committee would have to ponder the cost estimates and the testimony on the abundance of math and science teachers before deciding whether to go ahead with the bill.

He was skeptical of the OSPI's cost estimates, contending the agency has a pattern of providing cost figures that are higher than expected for legislation. "We're going to push back on this," Litzow said. He plans to ask the State Auditor's Office to review OSPI's estimates in recent years on legislation and to find out how accurate those estimates have turned out to be.

Your thoughts?   If you had to pick which would it be?  More spending for more kids to be in advanced classes in high school or paying more for math/science/special ed teachers?



Anonymous said…
I think some of the classes at Nathan Hale are AP classes for all. Not all of them take the AP test though.

It would be nice if more AP classes were offered at more high schools. People choose Roosevelt because the number of AP classes available is high.

Well, AP classes in SPS ARE open to all (except maybe the language/math ones because you need some basic grounding to be able to do the work). I'm not sure if this legislation says the students have to take the AP test.

All the high schools do have AP classes (and it's growing) but yes, some schools have more than others.

At Roosevelt, all sophomores have to take AP Human Geography.
Michael Rice said…
Well, this is an easy choice. I think we need to pay our math teachers WAY more!!!!!! :-)
Anonymous said…
If I had to spend the money, I would put it towards more fundamentally sound curricula in math and language for all children. Why is the District still using discovery math and whole language approaches? Why isn’t the District looking at the high remedial rates in college and asking which curricula could better serve students?

If students do not get the basics, they will not excel in AP, STEM, IB or other advanced classes.

S parent
Patrick said…
I am still kind of surprised at how many students take AP classes now. Are the AP exams the same as when I was in high school back in the late 70s-early 80s? Back then, even in an academically competitive school, probably less than 1/4 of the students ever took an AP exam, hardly anyone took the AP exam without taking the AP class, and I don't think there were more than four or five AP classes.
Michael :), of course.

Patrick, I think they are very different now (or at the least, retooled).
Jan said…
Much like "charter schools for all," or "MAP tests for all," this seems badly thought out. On the one hand, to the extent it is the case that in some districts, minority kids are discouraged from, or prohibited from, taking AP classes, we need to fix that problem. But here are my issues:

1. My impression is that many AP classes are a mile wide, an inch deep. While that may put them in the category of an entry-level college survey course, virtually all of my college classes were targeted at more focused, deeper analysis. Particularly for kids going to selective four-year liberal arts colleges, I think they would do better to take one or more seminar-style courses that concentrated on smaller "swathes" of information, but required far deeper analysis and understanding. (This may not be the case with AP Math courses, and AP science courses, as I have little experience there).

2. It really bugs me to fork over this kind of money to the AP company (to say nothing of all the companies who publish test-prep materials, etc.). Again, I don't object if specific students want to go this route, but for the districts to buy in, wholesale, to something that shovels that kind of money (and again -- for what? the company is not doing any of the teaching, or the lesson planning -- they are just raking in big dollars for the testing apparatus) really bugs me. I understand that kids applying to certain colleges like them (either because they get college credit for little cost (but ONLY if they pass the tests with high enough scores and the colleges agree to accept AP test scores for credit) and because there are few ways for kids to demonstrate to colleges the rigor of their courses. But requiring every kid to take them (and to take the tests?) Sounds like a fire hose of money pointed at the test company to me, without countervailing benefits, in many cases, to the kids or whomever is footing the test bill.

3. My sense is that many kids pick AP classes for the same rasons kids in my day picked honors classes -- because the self-selecting peer group in those classes made them more interesting and more informative. The other kids in the class participated in discussion, turned in homework, and generall worked hard, which may or may not have been true in the non-honors class down the hall -- and that dynamic made the class more interesting. The AP test overlay makes that self-sorting dynamic a pretty costly one.
Po3 said…
I am not surprised at the number of students taking AP classes.

What does surprise me is how many students earn college credit by passing so many AP classes. Back in my day passing one of those tests was the exception, not the rule. So something has changed.

I also wonder what kind of knowledge do students gain in these classes? Do AP classes with the goal of passing a test help them become critical and creative thinkers or just expert test takers?
We could have a whole discussion of AP but Jan and Po3 bring up good points.

AP classes are generally taking in a lot of knowledge fast without a lot of discussion. I personally don't love that in a class. It does nothing for critical thinking skills.

I'm not really for this plan simply because many colleges and universities don't have a great deal of faith in the classes (and hence, you need a really high score to get any credit). Basically, it only shows you took the highest level of difficulty your school offers.

They ARE hard test so no, it's not about taking a test well. You need to know the material. But it's a lot of memorizing over a connecting-the-dots kind of learning.

A bit of a vicious circle because are they hype or truly worth it?
Eric B said…
I took AP tests 20 years ago, so there's surely been change. My take was that the liberal arts classes (language/literature, history, etc.) were fairly comparable in scope to entry-level classes in college. The big difference was that in college, you were expected to read the whole book, not just the "important parts/themes." The AP tests also had a fairly good mix of multiple choice (do you know the facts) and essays (do you understand the material). On the other hand, the math and hard sciences didn't cover as much as the equivalent entry-level college classes for math/science/engineering majors.

That said, I'm also skeptical of one-size-fits-all solutions, particularly across an entire state.
Anonymous said…
I went to a college prep academy for high school and we took almost all AP classes in our senior year but very few people actually took the tests for credit. AP classes today seem to have a different weight to them than community college classes (running start). Colleges must vies them differently.

mirmac1 said…
I agree with the philosophy of raising the bar and level of expectations for everyone. As it stands, once special education students hit middle school and beyond, they (along with different learners) are too often tracked into low achieving classes. This is particularly true for schools that don't know what the heck inclusion is. And admin and teachers who don't take responsibility for our sped students.
Charlie Mas said…
Any education policy which prescribes the same treatment for all students is probably a bad idea.

Mr. Litzow has shown, once again, that he doesn't have a clue about education.
Anonymous said…
I always liked PE and shop best, so I think we should pay them twice as much as my boring history teacher! When did teaching become a popularity contest like choosing cheerleaders or homecoming kings? How could such a policy ever end well? "Give me your seat in the teacher's lounge while you stand, for I am a MATH TEACHER! Part the crowds in the hall, please, for his excellency the BIOLOGY teacher ventures this way!"

Let's just breed arrogance and credentialism into the teacher's ranks, why don't we? It works wonders in administration! WSDWG

Anonymous said…
Eric B, when I took AP English 20 years ago we had to read the whole books. I think it was about 5 for the year (well, Billy Budd is more of a novella), plus many poems and short stories. Maybe it depends on your teacher. I did well on the AP exam, and so did most of my classmates (as I recall). The AP American History class was pretty hard, too, though the reading selections were shorter.

Today my son in AP Language Arts has a fairly challenging reading list, but virtually no book-length texts. The focus is narrative non-fiction. Next year's AP course is on literature, but they still don't read many full books. I don't understand why not because I remember my full-book-reading AP English as difficult, but not astounding in the level of work required.
Patrick said…
Eric B, I remember reading whole books from about 3rd grade on. We had one exception, Moby Dick we skipped the chapters that were just anatomy and habits of whales. Otherwise, it was whole books, not abridgements.
Anonymous said…
I teach an AP class, and in addition to the issues raised by Jan (to all of which I concur), what I've found is a killing of writing. Many of these AP tests are essay tests. What works in an essay test is a 5 paragraph essay -- clear thesis, coverage, and out. Kids take enough AP classes and their writing begins to get really superficial -- stock writing, thin thinking, voice without risk.

AP teacher
Po3 said…
When you have every student enrolled in AP classes - those classes become Gen Ed classes and a new set of classes will need to be created for students who need to accelerate.

I think that is what IB is, the new AP.
Actually Po3, I think you are right - IB is very different than AP. I have a friend who has two kids that went thru/are going thru IB and it is much more in-depth and they have a lot more writing and extensive testing.
way2 college said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
Since I particularly value the arts realm, I have to vote for more pay for art/music. Seriously though, while I support more AP classes at more schools, I do not support making them mandatory. Our high school-er knows own limitations due to dyslexia that flies totally under the radar, and chose not to take AP US. The added stress/work load would have been awful.

A year and a quarter to go.
parent said…
It would be interesting to hear more feedback about IB vs AP classes - can we make generalizations about the value, incisiveness, content and depth of these classes, or is it more a function of the school and the particular teacher you happen to have for the class? Also interested in perceptions of advanced programs like IBX @Ingraham and Running Start (or is it Head Start?) that allow HS seniors to take college courses for credit - that almost sounds too good to be true in the $ it could potentially save on college tuition.
- 7th grade parent
Anonymous said…
If your child has a diagnosed disability,at minimum a 504 plan could be implemented to give modifications and accomodations to help access those classes. If an iep is in place assistive technology should be given by the school to bridge the gap in order to access the material. Twice-exceptional students (gifted and learning disabled), often underidentified and underserved have disproportional drop-out and suicide rates due to frustration with school, feeeling like failures while disbelieving they are smart AND capable. Essentionally the disability needs, general education nor gifted needs are met.

Sps knows they are decades behind federal law in special education and also know they violate civil rights by excluding students with disabilities in advanced learning, but as usual turn a blind eye.

Sped advocate
Anonymous said…
Isn't this a little like Lake Woebegon where "all our kids are above average"?

Finding the suggestion a little funny
Anonymous said…
Not only is it very Lake Wobegonish, but families may suffer whiplash in the Seattle district. So, the philosophy will be:

1. At elementary school kids will be kept out of advanced learning in a vigorous manner. Great school performance and only 1/2 percentage point too low on the Spectrum tests? Too bad.

2. In middle school some "unqualified" kids, some of the time, will be allowed into advanced classes just because they want in and some teacher somewhere recommends it for them. But we'll keep some of those kids out. Just because we can.

3. In high school, "Sign up for AP everything. The more the merrier. What? It's hard to succeed because you could only take gen ed classes up to this point? You don't want to take all AP? Too bad!"
Anonymous said…
One nice thing about IB is if you score well enough you can go to an overseas university with little difficulty. With AP you have to take enough classes and pass the AP tests. If you don't take either IB or AP, then you can't go to an overseas university until you have a year of American college.

dan dempsey said…
Inside Higher Ed has this article on AP Gains.

While mean scores and overall participation in the AP exam both grew, inequity in the availability of the exams and programs persists across socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, despite some improvements.

Top 10 States in Percentage of 2012 Public High School Graduates Succeeding on AP Exams

Maryland (29.6%)
New York (28.0%)
Massachusetts (27.9%)
Florida (27.3%)
Virginia (27.2%)
Connecticut (26.9%)
Maine (24.8%)
California (24.7%)
Colorado (24.2%)
Vermont (22.8%)

The above is from the table of students scoring a "3" or better on at least one AP exam.

Washington (20.0%) was at #15 and the US average was (19.5%)

The entire report is available as a .pdf HERE.
dan dempsey said…
Hey ... let us not forget about advanced classes in kindergarten ... look to CCSS mania to lead the way. Play should be verboten... eh?

From Valerie Strauss's Answer Sheet

A tough critique of Common Core on early childhood education

Recent critiques of the Common Core Standards by Marion Brady and John T. Spencer have noted that the process for creating the new K-12 standards involved too little research, public dialogue, or input from educators.

Nowhere was this more startlingly true than in the case of the early childhood standards—those imposed on kindergarten through grade 3.

.. It appears that early childhood teachers and child development experts were excluded from the K-3 standards-writing process.

We called Mr. Wilhoit and Mr. Linn (who is now vice president of the Business Roundtable), along with several other people involved in the process, to ask them to comment for this article on the way the public feedback summary and the K-3 standards themselves were written. None of them returned our calls.

The Common Core Standards are now the law in 46 states. But it’s not too late to unearth the facts about how and why they were created, and to raise an alarm about the threat they represent.
Anonymous said…
Hale's 11th and 12th grade LA classes are both AP, full inclusion. The Juniors have AP Language and Composition (Argument and Rhetoric), and the Seniors get Language and Literature. The tests in May are optional, but the curriculum isn't. Exposure to the curriculum is what makes a difference, not so much the taking of the tests.
H4A, to be clear, the research shows that taking an AP helps a student somewhat in college. Taking the test helps even more and, of course, taking and passing the test even more. Meaning, that the exposure to the rigor allows the student to better take on college-level work.

Have to say that it is interesting that Hale now does this because they had tremendous pushback against LA and History AP classes when my son attended there.
Anonymous said…
I would so prefer to see the high schools simply offer rigorous, thoughtful coursework that is not driven by the College Board. Seven "5s" and several hundred dollars of AP tests later, we've learned with my senior that the "credit" thing is a farce - he won't have to take the intro courses that AP replaces, but he'll still have to take, and pay for, a full 4 years of college everywhere. He will just be able to have more choice in his coursework.

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