One argument that common core supporters sometimes use is that without common exams across the country, it is impossible to measure how different states are doing. But of course there are plenty of existing tests already which do this, like the SAT and the APs.
Though I’ve got plenty of issues with The College Board, I will admit that the AP tests are decent tests. And The College Board is pretty good about publishing its annual data, which is something that I find helpful when looking for somewhat objective numbers.
Last year I read about the miracle in Louisiana where they had a huge increase in the number of test takers. This year, the College Board released the 2014 data, and Louisiana did it again. They are truly closing the gap between the percent of Louisiana students taking the AP compared to the national average.
But participation rate is of course something that can be rigged. All it takes is some money to give to The College Board and as many students as you want to pay for can sit and take the AP test. What usually matters to ‘reformers’ are results.
But as the Times-Picayune noted, the percent of students passing the test declined in 2014 from about 34% to about 30%. Of course John White had a response to that:
But detailed data showed that overall pass rate declined by 4 percentage points. Education Superintendent John White said that drop was expected, given the higher number of students taking the test.
“Because we have had such a large increase in test takers, it is possible for the number of overall success stories to go up and the rate of success to remain flat or go down,” he said.
And it is true that it is possible to increase test takers by a lot and even if both test takers and test passers increase, it is possible for the percent of passers to go down. So if percent participation isn’t really a good measure of success, as I suggest, and if percent passing isn’t a good measure of success, as John White suggests, what metric could be used to measure AP success which cannot possibly be gamed?
Fortunately, there is one. The College Board keeps a statistic of the percent of the graduating class who pass an AP exam. This is a number that, for 2014 ranges from the lowest, Mississippi at 3.2%, to the highest, Maryland at 22%.
How did Louisiana rank on this metric in 2014?
The College Board produced graphs like this for 2012 and 2013, which can be used to see Louisiana’s progress over the past three years.
In 2013 they were also second to last. The 5.3% was higher than the 4.1% in 2014, but the numbers can’t be truly compared because the 2014 numbers are for juniors and seniors while the 2013 numbers are just for seniors.
And, yes, in 2012 they were also second to last. The 2012 number is 6.3% which means that they did drop in this metric from 2012 to 2013 and they were calculated the same way.
So with all the cheering coming from Louisiana about the AP results, I’d say that what they have is an embarrassment, only better than Mississippi for the past three years.
I also found this chart ranking the ‘progress’ of the different states in AP results over the past ten years. In it we see that Louisiana isn’t just low on achievement, but had the fourth lowest amount of ‘growth’ down there with the other miracle state, Tennessee.
Looking for results from individual schools, I found the New Orleans newspaper made an easy to use database with the AP results for any school. In the RSD, things are looking really bad. The first school I checked out was the famous miracle school Sci Academy.
In general, the RSD did not have many passing scores.
Forcing kids to take an AP course or an AP test when they are not ready for it is not ‘raising the bar’ and ‘increasing rigor.’ If I were teaching a course and 9% of my students passed the final exam, there would need to be a serious discussion about what the problem was. In this case the problem is surely the Louisiana Department of Education forcing students to take tests to pump up their participation numbers. But the numbers, at least the right ones, don’t lie. Louisiana, even after all their years of being allowed to perform their experiments on the kids down there, is still second to last in AP results in the one metric they are not able to rig.