Louisiana Makes Big Gains* On AP Tests

To education ‘reformers,’ test scores are the ultimate measure of success.  Test scores are the evidence that the country’s education system is broken.  Test scores of certain charter schools prove that most teachers in this country have low expectations and don’t try very hard.  Schools have been shut down over test scores.  Teachers have been fired over test scores.

Contrary to the narrative of common core proponents, there are currently many national tests that can be used to compare test scores of different states.  There’s the NAEP, the ACT, the SAT, and, probably the highest quality of all of them, the Advanced Placement exams.  Though I’m not a huge fan of a lot that The College Board does, I find the tests that I’m knowledgeable about, AB Calculus, BC Calculus, and Computer Science, to be good tests.

Education ‘reform’ leaders use low test scores as a way to justify their radical policy changes.  “Kids can’t wait,” they say.  They promise that they know what works and that they just need some time for their changes to take effect.

As someone who has been tracking the ed ‘reform’ movement for nearly 5 years now, I notice that they have not delivered on their promises to raise test scores.  A prime example is in Louisiana where state superintendent and two-year Teach For America veteran, John White, has been celebrating Louisiana’s progress on the Advanced Placement tests for the past three years.  Even though their percent passing continues to be near the bottom of the nation, they celebrate the fact that their ‘participation’ has increased.  And with that increased participation, this is not surprising, their percent passing has dropped from 43% down to about 30%.

In September 2012, I first blogged about this.  Then in August 2013, it came up again, this time with a Twitter exchange between White and me.  And then last year, October 2014, I found all kinds of reports from The College Board demonstrating the Louisiana continues to be second to last in the country in AP achievement.  And here were are again, my fourth annual post about the stagnant AP scores in Louisiana.

In the August 5th, 2015 Times-Picayune, there was an article called ‘In AP test participation, Louisiana records big gains’.  But making kids take the test, and getting tax payers to pay for kids to take those tests, is meaningless.  Looking at the newly released data from The College Board, I see that Louisiana has the third lowest percent of passing scores in the country.


So the ‘reformers’ answer to this is that they’ve increased participation so it is possible for percent passing to go down while the number of passing scores can still go up, which is true.  But the thing I looked into was how their amazing increased participation compares to the participation in other states.  I suppose if Louisiana had some of the highest participation in the country, it would be unfair to compare their very low pass rates with the pass rates of other states that have very low participation.  Fortunately the College Board keeps track of this too.  It seems that even with this increased participation, Louisiana has the twelfth lowest participation in the country so it is actually more than fair to compare their very low percent passing to the percent passing in other states.


I even tried to make a metric that combined these two numbers by multiplying the percent participation by the percent passing for each state and this resulted in Louisiana still being very close to the bottom of the country.


The College Board will soon release slick summary reports with even more useful information.  I’ll surely write about that when it comes our.

In addition to the state-by-state data released by the College Board, the state of Louisiana, a few months ago, released AP data for their districts and their schools.  These numbers are shockingly low and certainly seem to be something that ‘outcome driven reformers’ want to ignore.  Sci Academy, which is one of those New Schools For New Orleans schools touted on Oprah, for example, had over 110 students take an AP exam while less than 10 of them passed one.  Out of about 500 students who took an AP in the entire Recovery School District, only 27 students, or 5.5% passed one.

‘Reformers’ like to say that they get increased freedom in exchange for increased test score accountability.  They are truly running out of time to deliver on their promises.

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23 Responses to Louisiana Makes Big Gains* On AP Tests

  1. Gary, it is a shame that a rogue state is forcing unprepared students to take a challenging and wishfully believing this is a measure of success. And for news outlets to report this as success is nothing less than doublespeak. They all belong in a 1984-type world where up is down and down means erudition. Supposedly, APs measure ones ability to handle college level material. Well, years of lying, manipulation, and a charterized plantation culture have proved that Louisiana has built a straw house–one easily blown down. However, its inhabitant is still knocking on non-existent walls saying that this is the strongest edifice ever built.

  2. Gary, great post. Add the AP Statistics exam to the list of “good tests.” One of things that I do appreciate about the College Board is their willingness to be somewhat transparent with their tests. The passing rates and distributions are always reported, free response questions with grading rubrics are released, and aggregate data based on various factors is always freely available. Unfortunately one of the reasons schools and communities are pushing for more kids to take AP tests, is that it is a factor in the ratings for certain reports (eg US News). If, as a result, people are misusing the test, I cannot fault the College Board for that. [Disclosure: I do work for the College Board and I am extremely happy about my experience with them.]

    • Joe Nathan says:

      AP is a classic example of over-reliance on how well students do on one day and one test. It’s unethical and immoral to decide whether a student receives credit at a college for work over an entire semester or even an entire year, based on how well a student does on a single test.

      • I had a lot of college courses that relied solely on a final exam for my course grade. Yup, one day, one single test. I think your argument is not about AP but about that type of model.

      • Joe Nathan says:

        Sorry you had such courses, Amy. I have earned a BA, MA, PhD and taught in several colleges and universities. In 45 years, I’ve never heard of a college course that relied only on one final exam for the exam. I think its professional mal-practice. It happens that I’m a newspaper columnist for a number of newspapers, reaching up to 600,000 people per week.

  3. Joe Nathan says:

    Pretty broad generalization to begin your post, Gary. For many of us deeply involved in helping to improve schools, there are many ways to measure progress.

    Since you agree that a single test is not a good way to measure a student’s achievement, I hope you are challenging (and encouraging others to challenge) the single test that is used to determine whether students are admitted to the school where you teach. Are you?

    • booklady says:

      Mr Nathan, What plan would you recommend for admission to Stuyvesant HS?

      • Joe Nathan says:

        Open to all – use of a lottery when there are more students who want to attend than spots; creation of a 2nd and 3rd school similar to meet the needs. There are many examples of this kind of replication of popular public schools.

      • mjpledger says:

        But doesn’t that defeat the purpose of Stuyvesant – to give academically gifted kids in the sciences access to accelerated courses.

      • Joe Nathan says:

        What happened to the idea of public schools open to all? A public school open to all can still offer a variety of advanced and challenging classes.
        But students in a school with a variety of students can also learn that there are a variety of gifts & talents – that for example, a person can be very talented in wood-work or plumbing or auto repair or… That kind of school can help students have a more realistic view of the world.
        We also know that Sty has had significant issues with cheating.
        According to the NY Times interviews with 3 dozens students and alumni, “Lower level cheating occurs every day.”
        Is this what you want for youngsters? A school where there is so much academic pressure that cheating occurs every day?

      • mjpledger says:

        I’m torn – my personal belief is that every school should be a great school, no shafting of kids who live in poor areas but I am also very aware of how gifted kids have a lot of trouble in mainstream school.

        I think a lot of the kids that cheat at Stuy would be cheating elsewhere as well because it’s not just the academic pressure at High School but about getting into college – the academic challenge may come from Stuy but the pressure to succeed comes from family and cultural expectations.

      • Joe Nathan says:

        Perhaps the students would cheat elsewhere. Certainly cheating happens in many schools. But clearly there is at atmosphere at Sty which has resulted in wide-spread cheating.
        I’ve watched Gary’s blogs to see if he will speak out on this. Perhaps I’ve missed it but I have not seen it.
        Gary has talked challenged the mis-use of standardized testing by others but has nothing to say about the mis-use of testing at the school where he has chosen to teach. The NAACP has challenged these practices: http://www.naacpldf.org/case-issue/new-york-city-specialized-high-school-complaint
        They seem ok to Gary.

      • mjpledger says:

        I should have read the article first because it said basically what I said – pressure to get into the ivy leagues.

        But it did remind me of an episode from an old show called “Paper Chase” about a law student. The old professor gives the class an assignment of 50 questions and splits them into teams and in order to pass they have to get so many right (IIRC) correctly. The young law student realises that the only way they can win is if all teams cooperate and so the teams that share pass. This was the the exact point the old professor was trying to make.

    • Jeff Donnelly says:

      Ad hominem.

  4. John Fager says:

    I don’t have a problem with your characterization of so-called “reformers” belief in, reliance on, and misuse of high stakes standardized testing. However, I do want to point out that many of the alternative tests you say are available to give some indication of how we’re doing in education either release date for whole states such as NAEP (I know that they also release data for twenty-something “trial urban districts”) or were mostly high school tests. What non-high stakes tests can be used to get a snap shot of elementary or middle schools?

    • Triumph104 says:

      For a snap shot of elementary and middle schools simply go to Schooldigger and look at the racial and income demographics. If a high minority, low-income school has good test scores then some sort of “trick” was used to get those scores, mostly drilling the test for weeks or months, occasionally cheating.

      Don’t get me wrong, students in grades 3-8 should be taught what is on the state exam but few low-income kids have any deep understanding of the material even when they test well. This is proven when they reach high school and fail most of their AP exams and get below average SAT scores.

      NPR did a great story on a Durham, NC elementary school that was forced to restructure under No Child Left Behind. The school got rid of most the black students and a third of the low-income students and is doing great now. http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/10/27/450903995/forcing-schools-to-hit-the-reset-button

  5. Pingback: Gary Rubinstein Questions Louisiana’s “Big Gains” on AP Tests | Diane Ravitch's blog

  6. Pingback: The Misanthropy of Gary Rubinstein – Citizen Ed

  7. spottedtoad says:

    The problem is that AP tests are fairly g-loaded tests; they test a bunch of things you can memorize and practice, but to a fair degree, what will help you do well on them are things that can’t, as far as we know, be taught.
    Unfortunately, this is increasingly true for the tests at lower grade levels (which ironically often have higher stakes for kids and staff) as well: https://spottedtoad.wordpress.com/2016/01/19/the-g-loaded-common-core/

  8. Pingback: Louisiana Moves From 4th Worst To 3rd Worst On AP Performance | Gary Rubinstein's Blog

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