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Saturday's letters: Just taking the advanced classes is valuable

Advanced Placement exams

Just taking the advanced classes is valuable

There are several aspects concerning AP exam scores that were not covered in the original Dec. 12 article, and I am surprised that neither College Board officials nor college admissions directors were interviewed.

With my 20 years of experience as an AP U.S. history teacher and exam leader at the AP U.S. history gradings, I serve the College Board as a national consultant for the AP program. In my presentations to teachers, counselors and both school and district administrators across the country, I make a clear distinction between AP classes and AP exams. While both are part of a total AP program, the exam scores are best seen as "icing on the cake." The "cake" is the college readiness and college admission potential provided by taking an AP course.

These are freshmen-level college courses that use college-level textbooks and syllabi created by College Board committees made up of high school and college professors who are experts in the field. College admissions directors will tell you that course content and rigor are why they prefer to see, and sometimes require, AP courses on an applicant's transcript. Colleges often add additional points for AP course grades to a recalculated grade point average for admission, no matter what the student scored on the AP exam. The exam scores offer the opportunity for college credit but should not be the main reason to take an AP course.

While I definitely agree that some AP teachers are not academically strong enough or good enough class managers to teach the AP level, I also believe that the AP exam score data should be de-emphasized in favor of the college preparation an AP student is gaining through a yearlong class. On the 5-point exam score scale, a student can score a 1 or 2 and still have gained more knowledge and college readiness skills than his or her counterpart in a regular or honors level of that same course.

Barbara Ramsey, Brandon

Profit skews system

It is irresponsible to attack teachers for low AP passing rates (AP scores reveal cracks in facade, Dec. 15, editorial).

The problem is systemic, and it has to do with the profit motive trumping a sound approach to education. The College Board makes money whether a test is passed or not; Hillsborough school superintendent MaryEllen Elia gets a "bonus" whether a test is passed or not; even teachers can get bonuses.

Recent statistics broken down by school reveal an often dismal passing rate well below 30 percent. Consider the impact on an individual classroom in which two-thirds of the students are failing. So many "new" teachers are coming to AP teaching because many veteran teachers have stepped down over an impossible workload and impossible expectations for success.

The switch a few years ago from block scheduling (in which teachers teach three long classes per day and care for about 75 students) to a regular schedule (teaching six short classes a day to 150 students) has effected a "speedup" absolutely detrimental to caring for students as persons and giving them intense and rigorous instruction.

Melanie Hubbard, Ruskin

The challenge is good

Since the beginning of the decade, I have watched the movement resulting in more AP classes being available. Larger numbers of students in Hillsborough County have access to them. Oftentimes, I hear about the pass rate for classes — as though this is what is really important.

I know and applaud students who score 3 or higher on the AP exams. I know even more students who struggle just to grasp the challenging course content. Many survive with an A or B in the classroom without "passing" the AP exam. These students challenge themselves.

Our daughter helped me appreciate the value of students having access to AP classes. She took three AP classes in high school, but passed none of the exams. A year ago, we attended her graduation from the University of Tampa. The critical thinking skills she gained in rigorous high school academic classes helped her earn a bachelor's degree (with honors) in 31/2 years.

Professors who teach freshman and sophomore classes at local and national universities may have insights related to their students who earned A's and B's in multiple AP classes while they were in high school. If professors have generally positive things to say about these students, then maybe our AP teachers deserve more credit than the exam data — and your editorial — reflect.

Jason D. Mims, Tampa

Misleading comparison

The Advanced Placement pass rate statistic used to compare the Hillsborough County pass rate (36 percent) with the national rate (57 percent) is very misleading. It is an unequal comparison because throughout much of the country, students and their families must pay the $86 fee to take the exam, while in Hillsborough and much of Florida the cost is free for students. By having to pay the exam fee, students must weigh the cost with their likelihood of passing, which reduces the number of students scoring 1s and 2s on the exam throughout districts where students can opt out of the exam. This in turn inflates that school's pass rate.

While there are no hard facts on what percentage of students opt out of the exam, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute study on AP teacher morale published in April suggested that only 35 percent of districts in the South require students to take the exam.

Hillsborough County could easily raise the pass rate of the district by making the students and families pay the $86 fee. As a teacher of AP classes in Hillsborough County, I believe this would provide the disincentive for students to load up on four and five AP classes to simply boost their college applications, which is a factor not explored in your editorial. The district could then take much of the money they would save and provide financial aid to students who cannot afford the test, enabling the district to continue its laudable goal of improving AP participation among minority and low socioeconomic students.

Brian Ayres, Valrico

Hard work required

Wow. I can't imagine why anyone would want to be a teacher in Florida. According to your editorial on Tuesday and some letters about AP scores, poor teaching is all that is keeping our precious children from being brilliant and successful.

There are two ways to succeed in school. 1) Be born brilliant and show up for class. 2) Be born less than brilliant, show up for class, and work as hard as it takes to succeed.

Most of us fall into the second category. Motivation has to come from involved parents or from within. It cannot be imparted magically by a teacher no matter how well-meaning or talented.

Kyle Elliott, Bradenton

Don't blame teachers

When I read stories in the paper about teacher performance, I think teachers are unfairly attacked. A teacher is only as good as the material that he or she is given to work with. What we end up doing is comparing apples to oranges.

When schools are at their worst, it is somewhat easier to defend the teachers by looking at the students and their parents as major players.

The same applies to this AP test data. I know, because my kid took and failed two AP tests last year. It would be easy for me to blame the teacher and feel as though I was cheated in some way. But I know that to be false. When the going got tough, my child decided to do just enough, which he defined as just better than some of the other kids in the class. With mild protest I let him.

He might not be struggling with family breakdown, a dangerous living environment, and economic deprivation. Actually the opposite was true: A car, cell phone, computer with Internet connection and an iPod probably had more to do with his poor performance. I don't blame his teachers for his failure. That responsibility belongs squarely to my son and his parents. In the end we will pay the price when he takes the courses in college.

David Horning, St. Petersburg

Failure on all sides | Dec. 10, editorial

For improved workers, it's best to start at the top

Your editorial brings up some very good issues.

We hear that government employees and teachers cannot be fired. Full disclosure: I was a state civil servant for 32 years, mostly as a supervisor, manager or administrator. Performance of employees should be tracked, not for the purpose of firing them but to improve their performance. When I see in the media stories about poor government employees and teachers, I am thinking the problem is with management and supervision.

Employees need not only adequate supervision but also adequate resources, support and training. Managers and supervisors require good training in how to provide training and resources for the staff. If and only if this is in place can you start efforts to improve the performance of those employees not measuring up to the level expected of them.

Over an established period of time the supervisor works with the employee to achieve the level of service desired. It can be surprising just how effective a plan can be if the problems are identified and the solutions are worked through with the employee.

You can substitute supervisor, manager or administrator for employee inasmuch as the improvement must start at the top until the proper system of training and goals are in place.

Keep in mind that training never stops. Problems arise and training should deal with a solution. This should work with the custodian and his supervisors referred to in your editorial.

Paul C. Blatt, Dunedin

Guns make a sad gift | Dec. 12, letter

No contradiction

The letter writer is wrong when she compares owning guns and Christianity. Owning a gun does not keep me from seeking peace or caring for others. I own a gun for protection from those who are not seeking peace, but are seeking to harm me.

Toni Armstrong, Apollo Beach

Gun owners get it, even if NRA leaders don't Dec. 10, E. J. Dionne column

Suspicious poll results

When I read E. J. Dionne's article about a recent survey of gun owners and NRA members, I immediately smelled a rat. Among other dubious results, Dionne states that the poll shows that 30 percent of NRA members support "requiring every gun owner to register each gun he or she owns as part of a national gun registry." I find this hard to believe.

However when you consider that the poll was commissioned by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which is co-chaired by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, public enemy No. 1 to gun rights supporters and the NRA, I wasn't surprised.

I just hope that when there is full disclosure (assuming there ever is) of the methodology used to achieve these highly suspicious results, the St. Petersburg Times will give equal space in its Opinion page to those providing clarification to the poll "results."

John Cornish, Palm Harbor

Scrutinizing justice | Dec. 13, editorial

Bias in the system

Your editorial concluded by saying, "Florida needs to know why it sends innocent people to prison, whether through individual errors or systemic problems."

My answer is systemic problems, since I am one of those people who has been put through the wringer by the so-called justice system. Thankfully in the end it worked with my acquittal by a jury. The personal financial and emotional costs are horrendous.

The problem is lack of investigation, quick arrest and the need to back up the law enforcement officer's decision. It then snowballs into getting that person convicted to prove no errors were made. It saves face, starting with the arresting deputy onward through the system.

It is favoritism in the system.

Frances Hoelper, Largo

Clear up confusion on police warning Dec. 11, editorial

Remember the victims

I read the editorial regarding the Miranda warnings and possible changes that might be made by the U.S. Supreme Court. At the same time, I was forming my opinion regarding the Miranda issue and any possible effect it would have on law enforcement in the future. I am basing my opinion on the 36 years of experience I gained as a member of a large city police department.

I was quickly outraged by the comments made by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who said, "The police here could have chosen to be more explicit, but they chose to obfuscate. … Shouldn't we assume that that is an intent to deceive or perhaps to confuse."

Can I assume that she is not "fond" of police officers, and in any court proceeding she will vote against law enforcement?

Miranda warnings began in 1966. Millions of arrests have been made by law enforcement since then and have passed through the court system. Keep in mind stricter guidelines in regard to the arrest of individuals do not interfere with the life of a police officer, but they do interfere with the lives of the victims and their families who "demand" justice.

Van E. Vergetis, Holiday

Suspect chokes to death on bag of marijuana Dec. 13

Killer weed

Well, it has finally happened. We can all stop questioning the dangers of marijuana. A 23-year-old man died after being jolted with a stun gun by the Bay County Sheriff's Department as he was trying to swallow a small bag of marijuana, evidently to avoid being charged with drug possession and labeled a criminal for the rest of his life.

He choked to death on the bag of marijuana which now, for the first time proves once and for all that marijuana is a dangerous, even deadly drug. We now have solid proof that the current war on marijuana users is absolutely worth it if we can prevent even one more senseless death due to the evil weed!

Danny Weil, Largo

Saturday's letters: Just taking the advanced classes is valuable 12/18/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 18, 2009 6:07pm]
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