News outlets and blogs across the Metro Atlanta area are touting that the College Board and GA DOE are recognizing DeKalb County Schools as having “17 High Schools placed on the state and national Advanced Placement (AP) honors lists”.
Unfortunately, this “honors list” is the equivalent to a participation trophy. It’s really just a “thank you” note to the school district for spending so much money with The College Board.
These awards are based on enrollment and not academic achievement. If no teacher ever showed up to a single AP class and every student failed every AP exam, sixteen of those seventeen high schools listed would still have been named 2017 AP Honors Schools.
AP Classes in South DeKalb were an EPIC FAILURE this past year.
The 2017 AP Honors Schools are named in six categories
AP Challenge Schools are schools with enrollments of 900 or fewer students and students testing in four of the core areas (English, math, science, and social studies).
AP Access and Support Schools are schools with at least 30 percent of the AP exams taken by Black or Hispanic students and 30 percent of students passed with a 3 or higher.
AP Merit Schools are schools with at least 20 percent of the total student population taking AP exams and at least 50 percent of all AP exams earning scores of 3 or higher.
AP STEM Schools are schools with students testing in at least two AP math courses and two AP science courses (AP Calculus AB, AP Calculus BC, AP Statistics, AP Biology, AP Chemistry, AP Environmental Science, AP Physics 1, AP Physics 2, AP Physics C, AP Computer Science A).
AP STEM Achievement Schools are schools with students testing in at least two AP math courses and two AP science courses and at least 40 percent of exam scores on AP math and science exams earning scores of 3 or higher.
AP Humanities Schools are schools with students testing in the following AP courses: at least one ELA course, two social science courses, one fine arts course and one world language course.
It appears to me that citing statistics on how many students are enrolled in AP courses has become a trendy but useless metric. What does that number really tell us? It certainly isn’t an indicator of the quality of education or achievement. At best, it is giving people a false sense of progress and success at their school. At worst, it undermines instruction in both AP and non-AP classes.
The AP Honors Schools, however, are a good indicator of who is dishing out a lot of money to the College Board for these AP Exams.
Using tax dollars to pay for Advanced Placement (AP) exams embodies many of the problems I have with the education and testing industrial complex as well as the implementation of political philosophies on both sides of the aisle in Georgia.
Advance Placement (AP) courses are college-level courses offered in high school. Students can earn college credit from scoring a level 3, 4, or 5 on the exam. The State of Georgia covers the cost for one AP exam for students who are served by the Free & Reduced Lunch Program (FRL).
Last week, the Board of Education approved up to $310,000 for the purchase of one AP exam for all students enrolled in at least one AP course. This means that students receiving free/reduced lunches will get two free exams – the first one paid for by the state, and the second one (if applicable) paid for by the District.
Why? Student performance in AP courses and on AP exams has been determined to be a valid indicator of success at the collegiate level. The District’s purchase of an AP exam for students enrolled in an AP course will provide (allegedly) greater access and equity for students.
EPIC FAILURE in South DeKalb – Here are the AP Exam results for the last 7 years.
There are 6 schools that have pass rates percentages of under 10% (Cedar Grove, Columbia, MLK, McNair, Redan, and Towers). There are 8 schools that have pass rate percentages between 10-25% (Arabia Mountain, Clarkston, Lithonia, Miller Grove, Stephenson, Stone Mountain, and Tucker). There are 2 schools that have pass rates of 26%-43% (Cross Keys and Southwest DeKalb). There are 6 schools that perform at or above the average pass rate (44%) for the school district (Chamblee, DECA, DeKalb School of the Arts, Druid Hills, Dunwoody, and Lakeside).
It is interesting to note that south of Hwy 78, there are only two schools with an average or better AP pass rate and both of those schools are magnet programs with entry requirements. It is even more interesting to note that the magnet programs at Arabia Mountain and Southwest DeKalb performed below average. Arabia Mountain performed significantly below average and below Southwest DeKalb’s numbers. Of the 6 schools that performed at or above the system wide passing average, three are traditional neighborhood schools with no entry requirements.
Dr. Joyce Morley (Board of Education) – “That’s good. When we talk about Towers HS that has done a complete turn around and we don’t hear anything about them. When there was a lot of crime and a lot of problems they were always out there. Now, nobody mentions what’s going on at Towers.
Clarkston, we have all those immigrants moving forward, and Redan and encouraging them to take the courses. These are the schools where the principals are working hard, there’s been a lot of turn around and they’re holding down the fort there. Also, enable and empower the counselors to identify the students and challenge them.”
I’m not sure where the turnaround is because it isn’t reflected in the quality or quantity of learning in the AP courses at Towers, Clarkston or Redan. Towers has a 24% decrease in the number of students taking the AP exam and a 2% increase in the number of students that pass the test. Clarkston should be relatively proud of itself, AP exam participation has gone from 193 to 238 students and from 10% to 11% passing rate. Redan embodies EPIC FAILURE. Redan HS had a 25% decrease in the number of students taking the AP exam and went from 15% to 5% of the students passing it.
DeKalb Superintendent Stephen Green – “This is part of a whole systemic effort that ties to My Brother’s Keeper or My Sister’s Keeper. What I’m pleased to hear is that contrary to popular belief, that “when you increase the number of students that the overall score will go down”. We are increasing the pipeline and the scores are going up. That’s what is most impressive to me.”
In South DeKalb there was a major decline in the number of AP Exams taken and a major decline in the percentage of students who passed the exams. The percentage of students passing these exams at MLK, Stone Mountain, Stephenson and Redan are at an all time low.
Style Over Substance and Who Really Benefits
The recent trend in education is to reward districts that have increases in AP test takers. Of course, the more tests that are taken, the more money flowing into the coffers of the testing industry. It’s no wonder that they give awards for increasing their bottom line.
Unfortunately, we are doing students and taxpayers a disservice with all these tax dollars going to the testing companies. Students and taxpayers alike should demand that money flow into the classroom to actually improve the quality of the instruction; so that kids might have a better chance to pass the AP exam and earn college credit. That would actually produce a return on investment for the taxpayers. Right now, all that is going on is a transfer of wealth to testing companies disguised as opportunities for disadvantaged students.
The irony is that the kids from more affluent backgrounds are several times more likely to actually capture the value of their free exam and earning college credit.
DeKalb County School District cites studies: Students who successfully complete an AP course are more likely to graduate high school and graduate from college. Correlation is not Causality
It is more likely that students who voluntarily choose to take AP courses and exams are the types of students that are already better prepared and highly motivated. Success in college perhaps is not attributed to the AP class and exam themselves, but to the personal characteristics that led them to participate in the class to begin with.
Philosophically, why is the state or school district paying for Advanced Placement Exams?
Education is the largest budget item in the state. The DeKalb County School District has the 2nd highest millage rate in the state. Why don’t we lower taxes and let people decide for themselves what to do with the money? Anybody who says that people will make the wrong decision is somebody that doesn’t believe in freedom. Freedom is the right of other people to make decisions that you do not approve of.
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.” — Frederick Douglass
“Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”