A Times Editorial

Pinellas must do better on AP classes

It is past time to assess the success of Advanced Placement classes in Tampa Bay high schools. As the districts continue to add students in these college-level courses, too often high grades in the classes may be followed by low scores on the AP exams. That disconnect to some extent undoubtedly occurs in all school districts, but a new study makes it particularly obvious in Pinellas.

For example, in one Pinellas high school classroom, two dozen students took the national AP exam tied to their course. Every single student scored a 1, the lowest result possible. And yet the teacher had given two-thirds of the students A's and B's for their classroom grades. If students are excelling in the classroom, they should be able to pass the test.

Pinellas has more than 200 instructors teaching AP courses. A recent Times analysis showed that 12 AP teachers last year did not have a single student who passed the exam. And about a quarter of all the AP teachers had fewer than one in five of their students pass. Those numbers are simply unacceptable. And it's not just a Pinellas issue. Though other districts have not released such detailed results, the problem exists elsewhere.

The good news is that there are reasonable ways to measure accountability. First, since the national AP tests are scored on a 1 through 5 scale (3 is considered passing as it is the minimum score that many colleges will accept for credit), it is reasonable to make sure that grades earned in the classroom fairly match scores earned on the AP exam itself. The vast majority of students earning A's should at least pass the exam.

Overall, many more AP exams were administered last year in Pinellas. The number passed indeed rose (4,008 passing scores last year compared with 3,603 the year before). But the overall number of tests given rose by more than 2,000 as well, meaning the district's pass rate dropped from 47 percent to 41 percent.

That more tests were passed means that it was good for the district to open eligibility for the courses at least somewhat. But the dismal passing rates in too many classes means that the district needs to do a much better job of preparing both the teachers and the students to succeed at AP.

And this is not just a question of rookie AP teachers. A class-by-class breakdown shows that far too many veteran AP teachers have ridiculously poor passing rates. That such failure is allowed to continue year after year is wrong and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Superintendent Julie Janssen is aware of the problems and studying what needs to be done. Some solutions are fairly straightforward: First, make sure the teachers are well trained to teach the material. Second, when too many students fail, analyze what part of the problem rests with the teaching and what part with the student.

Most important, make sure the grades in the classroom match up with AP exam results. Handing out an A for the class to a student who cannot pass the AP exam serves no one and undermines the integrity of the entire system.

Pinellas must do better on AP classes 10/21/10 [Last modified: Thursday, October 21, 2010 5:55pm]

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