Thursday, July 25, 2019

Advanced Placement Classes News

The first story comes out of Bethel School District.  From the Seattle Times:
Starting this fall, the Bethel school district will cover the full cost of Advanced Placement exams for every student — with no cap on how many AP courses each student can take.

The school district, located just south of Tacoma, already pays for only one roughly $100 test per student. And the state also subsidizes the cost for low-income students who can’t afford to pay for the tests, which could earn them college credit if they achieve high enough scores.

“We have a large population (of students) who can’t afford to pay for all of their AP classes, so this is to try and level the playing field,” Bethman said.
“If we take away that barrier, we hope that more students are ready to take the challenge,” she added. She expects the AP expansion to cost her district less than $40,000.
Of interest to Seattle parents:
It’s possible similar policies may spread across Washington as a new law soon will require every school district to automatically enroll students in advanced courses if they perform well on state tests.
This will definitely go to the heart of equity issues if students are put into classes, specifically structured to be rigorous, only to not be able to take the final test because of cost.

But are these classes worth it?

Chalkbeat reported:
Suneal Kolluri of the University of Southern California looked at over 50 studies of AP tests and classes that examine how they have expanded and whether they’ve equipped students with “college-level knowledge and skills.”
“There’s definitely no consensus there,” said Suneal Kolluri of the University of Southern California.
Last year, Kolluri authored a review of the existing research on the AP program and whether its rapid expansion comes at the cost of its intended goal to prepare students for college.

In a paper released this year, Kolluri did find two high schools in the same low-income neighborhood that both expanded access to their AP offerings and increased student scores on the exams. One school, he said, revised the curriculum to better reflect the cultural backgrounds of its students, adding relevancy between the coursework and their lives at home.
Little research exists examining the trade-offs of taking an AP class rather than a community college course, a career and technical education class, or another high school class.

Between 2001 and 2017, the total number of students taking an AP exam grew from about 820,000 to more than 2.6 million.

Only about 30 percent of exams taken by black students and 42 percent of exams taken by Hispanic students received a passing score in 2017, compared to 64 percent of exams taken by white students.
One explanation for that, Kolluri said, is that many students may be enrolled in low-quality AP classes. Another is that more students have not been prepared to take on the advanced material.
The long-awaited report on Honors for All program at Garfield High School might shed some light on how to prepare/support students for advanced material in class.

From the Baltimore Sun:
Nine traditional high schools didn’t offer any of these courses last year, district documents show, and five schools had just one.

That’s changing. The district is embarking on a three-year plan with the goal of having six AP classes, including a research capstone, offered at every high school in the city. When classes start in September, every high school in Baltimore is expected to offer at least one AP course. 
This is certainly good news for students in Baltimore.  In Seattle, every comprehensive high school offers AP courses.  I'm trying to remember when SPS finally got that done, late '90s maybe.  As I recall, Rainier Beach High School and Cleveland (before it was STEM) either had one class or none.   

Info from OSPI on AP rates in Washington State (from 2015)


Cred Mom said...

It's hard to say anything conclusive about AP exams in general because there's a big difference between taking an AP exam in World History or Calculus BC or English Language or Statistics or whatever. Some of them are very widely taken and some of them are very rarely taken. But free for students is a great idea. Then at least cost isn't a factor.

Anonymous said...

Just like everything else, once it becomes common place the value is diminished. Just watch it happen. Teach to the test on the way.

Mr. Happy

Anonymous said...

We all like freebies, but I have to say that--as a family who can afford to pay for AP exams--I'd rather the district NOT cover the fees for everyone. Overall, such an approach will give more benefit to those who need it least. I understand there may be concerns that students who need financial assistance for exams might be reluctant to ask for it and thus it seems preferable to just make it free for all, but why not go with some sort of hybrid instead (e.g., anyone can show up and take it whether or not they've already paid or "forgot"--no shame in forgetting).

Kids who take a lot of AP exams tend to skew higher income and they already get the benefit of potential college credits (which can save a ton of money), so I don't think we need to paying for them to also take the test to get those credits. There are also racial (and probably financial) disparities in who passes the AP exams, and thus who get the benefit--so we'd be essentially subsidizing AP credits disproportionately for higher income and already-higher-performing students. Instead of paying exams fees for everyone regardless of financial need, 'd rather see a good chunk of that money go toward better test prep for those who need more support to get passing AP scores on the tests they take. That seems more "equitable."

all types

Anonymous said...

We are thankful SPS pays for the PSAT and junior year SAT, but if districts are going to pay for AP exams, they also need to purchase appropriate texts and adequately teach content, otherwise what's the point? We were taken aback when an AP teacher spent part of curriculum night suggesting what study materials parents could purchase (on top of the cost of the exam!). When pass rates were shared, we started to understand...apparently some independent study would be needed for top scores. Isn't the best test prep a well taught class?


Anonymous said...

@YMMV, what kind of pass rates were shared? My impression was that pass rates were pretty good in some schools, suggesting that the classes were pretty decent as well (at least in terms of AP-type knowledge). But I know pass rates are poor in some districts, especially those that have forced kids into AP classes--high AP class-taking rates, and even high grades, but low AP pass rates...so probably a lot of grade inflation and/or teachers who think they're doing a way better job than they are.

I agree that, if the instruction and/or materials are poor, the money is better spent there rather than on tests that only end up measuring the inadequate instruction. I had been thinking of it more in terms of schools that seemed to be doing well (lots of students taking AP, with high pass rates), but maybe that's actually a rarity in SPS, I don't know. To the extent it IS true, however, if they are going to force a bunch of other students into those AP classes when they may not be as ready and/or may not have the commitment and/or support they need to do well, I'd want to see those kids get a little extra help so they can do equally well.

Where does one get AP pass rates for the district, anyway? Are they available by subject and by school? Seems like important information...

all types

Another Parent said...

The cost of a used AP biology prep book on Amazon is five bucks, including shipping. There is tons of free supporting information on the internet. For me, the point is not to get extra college credit, but to ensure that the district doesn't water down the curriculum. Like any test, to do well students have to study.

Anonymous said...

The long awaited report of honors for all won’t ever see the light of day. The board has asked to see it, the ALTF has asked to see it. Crickets.

No transparency

Melissa Westbrook said...

All Types, I believe that info is available at OSPI.

Anonymous, Director Harris has been on this. I doubt she'll let them get away without a full report.

Anonymous said...

Students should expect to study for AP exams, but how much material should a student expect to learn independently? If you want to discuss the correlation between AP scores and income, @AP's comment highlights what some may take for granted:

1) online access and personal computer
2) credit card
3) place to mail packages

And time.


Anonymous said...

With what seems to be the latest fall start date and both mid winter and spring breaks chosen by SPS, Seattle Public School students are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to time allotted to teach material before the the May AP tests. This year, with snow days, even the most efficient teachers and students would have had to work extremely hard to cover material for AP classes to get top scores. So, yes, I believe that kids in SPS do benefit from getting extra study materials and spending extra prep time outside of class. Any student choosing to take AP classes should be well aware of the commitment they need to make if scoring a 4 or 5 is their goal, and be ready to put in the effort. As colleges do offer credit for some scores, shouldn't the expectation be that it requires work beyond what a typical high school class demands?

@YMMV I don't believe study materials are hard to come by. Our classroom teachers offered extra study guides, we were handed down books and flashcards from students who finished the class the year before, the public library has up to date study books. I'm sure some kids have it easy - we were able to order inexpensive guides off Amazon so that my daughter could write in them - books are at most used bookstores and free resources can be found online as well.


Anonymous said...

I think the district should pay for all if they cover AP test rates. Cover it partially or in full then based upon income, but not all or nothing. So many times people like us are hit so hard. People in the middle with salaries not FRL. We are a middle income family with one salary being hit from all sides with many expenses, including huge medical bills and the high cost of living in Seattle. We are not FRL. AP tests help make college more affordable, a cost in which we are stuggling to save something.


Anonymous said...

Here's an article about how forcing kids into AP classes went in Federal Way (https://www.kuow.org/stories/proposed-law-would-require-wash-schools-enroll-students-ap-classes/). Their AP exam pass rate was way below state average, even though kids were passing the classes. The classes don't appear to have been up to the AP standard.

The value of putting kids in classes they might not be ready for is hard to say. I found this excerpt from the article interesting:

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.

Out of curiosity, why exactly do we expect that most high school students should be able to do college level work? If most can, shouldn't that be what high school level work is?

all types

Melissa Westbrook said...

Squeezed, it's not all or nothing now. The state helps with one AP test and there is a F/RL category for taking the test. I know it does not help those in the middle.

As the Bethel story noted, it will cost them $40,000. What is it worth to those who care about equity to pay for this in SPS?

All Types, I'm thinking that most high school work IS at the high school level and considered the prep work for college. AP is college-level for those kids who want that challenge and/or hope to save money on college by getting a high score on the test.

I would agree with Professor Parker that just putting kids in a fast-moving higher-level class will not work for some. Again, if we had the data from the Garfield experiment, we might know more.

Stuart J said...

This is the OSPI page with Advanced Placement info.


In addition to the trend data, linked-to in the article, there are a lot of other reports as well. There is a summary by district, and data for each high school, on number of exam takers, number of tests taken, and number with a score of a 3, 4 or 5.

The value of AP can vary widely. The scores needed for credit vary: for some a 3 is fine, for others only a 4 or 5 suffice. And some may not give credit at all. One of the benefits people often overlook is that a test can fulfill a distribution requirement in college. So, if a person needs a science credit, an AP Bio score may be good enough. For students majoring in programs that are very full, like engineering, getting credit from US History or AP Psych may be really helpful.

Running start does have some advantages, if the logistics work. there's a much wider variety of classes. The protocols for transferring credit are very easy to see from a variety of schools. Each university will have its own framework for accepting community college classes. The UW page is here


One of the big surprises for this dad of a freshman entering at four year school (not UW) is how the AP classes are almost seen as a standard part of background for what seem like freshman level classes. At the UW for example, many students take AP Calc AB, then take Calc 124, which is the first calc class in the sequence. At another school, taking AP Chem and getting a good score just means the student is ready for the regular chem sequence, If they'd not had the AP class, they might need to take the class that precedes the reqular class. At the UW, this would be Chem 110, then Chem 142

Anonymous said...

@Melissa, AP is college-level material IN THEORY, but not always in practice. The structure and teaching style of the classes is also not really a good approximation of college classes, either.

When it comes to AP credits, I think there's a risk that students (and parents) think just because a kid passed an AP class and CAN skip into a higher level class, that they SHOULD skip into a higher level class. Passing an AP class does not necessarily demonstrate a real mastery of the subject, and you may still have significant gaps in your knowledge base. My student was counseled by a college advisor NOT to take advantage of a high AP exam score and skip the the first two classes in a series, because they had seen too many students overestimate their readiness based on AP scores. You don't want to start college feeling like you're in over your head.

If your student is confident that they really should proceed to the highest level class allowed, I'd still recommend investigating further. My student ended up meeting with a grad student in that department who was very experienced with the intro series (former TA), and who was able to quickly assess whether taking advantage of the AP score credits was worth it or not. In my student's case it was--but my kid walked out of the AP test feeling they had gotten 100% correct. If you get a 3 or a 4--or even if you are a little surprised to score a 5--it might be better to repeat some material. It'll move at a faster pace so you won't feel like you're simply repeating a high school class, and you'll be in much better position to do well in courses for which that one is a prerequisite.

Of course, if you're talking about simply knocking off breadth requirements in areas in which you don't plan to take additional classes, by all means take advantage of AP/IB classes and free up some space for electives!

all types

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