Second in a series
The revelation of vastly different passing rates for college-level Advance Placement exams taken by Tampa Bay high school students is an opportunity for positive change. District superintendents and school principals should hold teachers accountable for dismal passing rates. But now parents are empowered with the information to demand better.
A St. Petersburg Times analysis of AP test scores revealed unacceptable disparities in exam passing rates from teacher to teacher in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. There are plenty of examples of teachers whose passing rates are less than 10 percent working in the same school with teachers whose AP exam passing rates are well above 50 percent. At Clearwater High last year, one teacher had an 89 percent passing rate for AP biology and another had a 63 percent passing rate for AP microeconomics. But the exam passing rate for an AP world history teacher was only 24 percent. At Blake High School in Tampa, one teacher had a 73 percent passing rate for AP Spanish, but another teacher had a 7 percent passing rate for AP U.S. history. Such gulfs between passing rates within the same schools suggest teacher performance, not the quality of the students, is an issue.
Principals and administrators do not advertise AP test passing rates for individual teachers, but they are public record and available. For Pinellas and Hillsborough high schools, go to links.tampabay.com. For high schools in other counties, parents should visit their child's school and request the information. A little sunshine on test results can highlight weak teachers in the AP courses and force principals and administrators to address them.
But parents have to engage to bring change. Ask questions at meetings of the PTA and School Advisory Councils. Why is one AP teacher's exam passing rate consistently high and another's so low? What training did the new AP teacher receive, and is he or she prepared? Isn't it reasonable to expect a student who has successfully completed an AP course to have a reasonable chance to pass the exam and receive college credit?
Parents and students can send the strongest message by avoiding AP classes taught by teachers whose test passing rates are far below average. Students can benefit from taking college-level classes in high school even if they fail to pass the AP exam. But huge differences in exam passing rates indicate too many students are shortchanged by teachers who poorly prepare them. Results matter, and AP teachers should be held accountable.
District administrators and high school principals have failed to address the disparities in teacher performance in AP classes. Engaged parents armed with the facts can force them to stop looking the other way.