Louisiana still ranks second to last in AP results

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.

Screen shot 2014-10-07 at 10.52.54 PMWith 13.6% participation in 2014, Louisiana has catapulted to 14th from the bottom in their participation.


This caused TFA alum John White to celebrate:Screen shot 2014-10-07 at 11.10.08 PM


Screen shot 2014-10-07 at 11.21.02 PM

Screen shot 2014-10-07 at 11.08.57 PM

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?

aprn_2014_ap_national_6So Louisiana ranked second to last with just 4.1%.

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.

Screen shot 2014-10-07 at 10.46.55 PMIn 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.

Screen shot 2014-10-07 at 10.36.37 PMAnd, 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.

Screen shot 2014-10-07 at 10.48.37 PM

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.

Screen shot 2014-10-07 at 11.19.59 PMThough they had 155 students take an AP test, only 14 students even got a 3, which was 9%.

In general, the RSD did not have many passing scores.

Screen shot 2014-10-07 at 11.17.02 PMYou’ve got to love the school that had over 200 test takers with less than 10 passers.  The leader was a KIPP school which had 16.1% of their test takers pass.

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.



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14 Responses to Louisiana still ranks second to last in AP results

  1. geauxteacher says:



    John White is good at muddying the waters – an expression he coined himself. 2014 SPS has yet to be released for our reading enjoyment.

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  9. Gary, To be fair to the efforts I know of no AP program that in its initial stages can get high passing rates while rapidly increasing enrollment. Raising the bar is a multi-step process – and getting passed the hump of AP enrollment, etc. is a reasonable starting point. Training faculty is another (but one cannot often add faculty without the enrollment demand). So it makes some sense to get the enrollment/interest curve up (even if artificially by opening the gates to participation by defraying exam costs, creating courses with higher “open” enrollment, etc), that then justifies adding AP teachers, which justifies further investment in training them, purchasing lab equipment, etc. That’s the way some funding streams work, especially if dependent on soft-external sources such as one time challenge grants. It’s a somewhat spiral process with some initial risks paving the way for later tweaking and improvements. While passing rates in Lousiana are clearly atrocious, 2 years is little time to tell. And even an AP course with low passing rates, assuming they actually follow the AP curriculum, lab activities and testing regime are better courses than the average high school designed course. Unless Louisiana has some exceptional teaching talent or truly outstanding curriculum development capacity (of course they do not), its really hard to develop a course much better than the AP ones, which have been fine tuned by thousands of highly competent teachers over decades. I beleive the CB has some data suggesting that taking the AP courses has positive lateral benefits, beyond the college credits they get if they receive a “passing” grade. This is not to say that White has not egregiously exaggerated his claims of success – but this is the game of politicized education that all state level school leaders are part of.

  10. NOLA Charter Pawn says:

    I attended a public forum last week where a Principal of one of the less than 5% success rate schools was claiming that he was making positive progress. I have a friend that assisted the AP teachers at this same school because the teachers were not qualified to teach the AP class. My friend tells me the teachers “Did not have a CLUE about the material they were teaching.”

    Our blowhard State Superintendent John White claims it is a victory when increased numbers are taking the test. “At lease they are being exposed to the experience.”

    When over 200 students take the AP test, AND you have teachers that are not capable of teaching the subject, AND less than 10 students score 3+…

    Do we label the students a failures?
    Do we label the teachers as failures?.
    Do we label the school as a failure?
    Do we declare our state leadership as a failure?

    Plenty of “Failure Labels” for everyone.

    G R keep up the great work.
    Can you do a piece on Eureka Myth?

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