Successes should be commended
In most of the country, teacher unions are reluctant to make evaluation or compensation decisions based solely on test score data because a little data in unskilled hands is a dangerous thing. Numbers can be made to support nearly any position imaginable.
In Hillsborough, we have taken a slightly different position. The Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association and Hillsborough school district have developed a mature, open and respectful relationship that allows for the use of data when making evaluation and compensation decisions. Still, even in Hillsborough, we do not rely solely on test score data.
Thankfully, we have the recent articles published in the St. Petersburg Times addressing Advanced Placement test scores to remind us how data can be misused and how quickly trust and respect can be undermined when that data is misused.
Should the number of children taking AP courses be allowed to increase nearly unchecked? If you believe that a student is likely to raise his or her effort by being presented with rigorous coursework and competition with other students, the answer is Yes. However, if you believe that an inability to grasp the coursework is likely to result in a student falling behind, ultimately becoming frustrated and disillusioned, then the answer is No.
Data contained in the sidebar of the first AP article reveals that between 2003 and 2009, the number of students successfully passing AP exams nearly doubled from 30,245 in 2003 to 56,549 in 2009. How does a doubling in the number of successful test-takers indicate that a crisis is at hand? In fact, those successes should be commended. Teachers are being asked to teach a higher level curriculum to a greater number of students, many of whom are not well-prepared for the rigorous coursework, and yet an increasingly larger number of those students are passing AP exams.
I believe that the recent St. Petersburg Times articles on Advanced Placement do more harm than good in that they may cause key stakeholders to take their eye off the prize. That prize is working to ensure that all children leave school having achieved to their maximum potential.
Nick Whitman, executive director, Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, St. Petersburg
AP results should spur parents into action Dec. 12, editorial
Inclusion distorts system
Your recent article and editorial about the results of Advanced Placement tests does a disservice to all of the stakeholders in the parent-teacher-student association. There was a time when they would have been relevant, but that time is long past.
In that time long ago, AP classes were taken by a select group of high school seniors and a few juniors. Teachers and guidance counselors worked together to ensure that those students enrolled were likely to succeed. Students who struggled or failed the first semester were scheduled out before the second semester and did not take the exam in May. It was fair and reasonable to talk about a "pass rate."
Now, the key word is inclusion. Through programs such as Springboard and AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), students are encouraged to take honors and AP classes even if they would not normally qualify according to test scores because "we" want to expose them to the material and to college-level class work. We have opened the floodgates. Students with FCAT reading scores of 1 and 2 are enrolled in AP classes. Students with marginal C's in prerequisite courses are enrolled in classes where they are guaranteed to struggle. They are forced to remain in the class for the second semester even if they failed first semester and have no reasonable chance of "passing" the AP exam.
On top of that, AP enrollment may also be a factor in the all-important grades that schools receive from the state. Oh! Did I mention that the Hillsborough County superintendent gets money for every student "enrolled" in AP classes, regardless of whether they "pass" or not? (Whether she chooses to direct that money to the Education Foundation or not, it is still part of her incentive package.)
You can have inclusion, or you can have "pass rate," but you cannot use both in the same breath. It is unfair to everyone when you do. There are effective teachers and ineffective teachers, to be sure, but parents need to find out all of the relevant information before making decisions.
Scott R. Hopkins, National Board Certified Teacher, Brandon
A reason to hope for better schools | Dec. 17
There are no guarantees
Let's continue to blame our schools and teachers. Your editorial slamming inconsistent AP test results is just the latest swipe at local efforts. No one denies that parents wish their children to be physically and intellectually advanced. But not everyone is. You published a recent article where a grandmother chastised her daughter for telling the grandchildren they could be anything they wished. Granny was wise enough to recognize that each of us has unique talents as well as limitations.
If Granny could extend your argument for AP teacher accountability into the physical education department, what would happen? Place numerous students into a gym class and require that each run 100 yards in less than 12 seconds. Even though the techniques and training would be similar, many students would fail to meet the standards. The principal would be encouraged by a certain editor to fire the unsuccessful teacher whose students couldn't run as fast as the test demanded and would be encouraged to hire a suitable successful replacement.
Granny would know better. She would say that a school provides an equal opportunity for anyone who desires an education. But wouldn't it be grand if a school could guarantee a student's success in whatever he or she wanted to do!
Until one admits that there is an individual responsibility for his or her education, one can only mirror the brainless straw man in The Wizard of Oz who receives a diploma and suddenly believes himself to be so much smarter.
Andy Szwast, Odessa
Problem's early roots
Discrepancies in teacher quality do not begin at the AP level. The problem goes back to the elementary schools. When high schools need to increase their AP numbers, they are obliged to recruit students who had teachers who were less capable of preparing them. That the well-prepared are so relatively few has long been an ignored red flag.
It is the improvement of the less capable teachers that gives the unions historic pause in the face of so much Race to the Top money. Back in the '90s, when the impetus for additional funding was the students' lack of reading and math skills, the union hesitated not at all.
Effective, efficient teaching takes knowledge, skill and hard work. To which of these does the teachers' union object most?
Katherine Livermore, Land O'Lakes
A reason to hope for better schools | Dec. 17
We need to pay our bills
You tell us that a $100 million gift from the Gates Foundation will make it possible to correct a teacher-training and salary problem at Hillsborough public schools.
While not wanting to seem ungrateful for the munificent gift, I cannot help but wonder why it should be necessary for charitable organizations to pay for correction of failures in governmental programs that should be paid for with tax revenue.
Let's resolve to tax ourselves sufficiently to pay the expenses of good government, holding those in public office responsible for the public welfare. And let charity feed the hungry.
Joseph H. Francis, St. Petersburg