Just what DOES "Honors" or "AP" mean?
Here's a fascinating article from the WaPo:
In an American education system full of plans for better high schools, more and more courses have impressive labels, such as "honors," "advanced," "college prep" and "Advanced Placement." But many researchers and educators say the teaching often does not match the title.
"A company selling an orange-colored beverage under the label 'orange juice' can get in legal trouble if the beverage contains little or no actual juice," said a February report from the National Center for Educational Accountability, based in Austin. "But there are no consequences for giving credit for Algebra 2 to students who have learned little algebra."
Grade inflation is a well-known issue. Many critics of public schools contend that students nowadays get better grades for less achievement than they used to. Experts also worry about courses that promise mastery in a subject but fail to follow through. Call it course-label inflation.
The educational accountability center's researchers, Chrys Dougherty, Lynn Mellor and Shuling Jian, found course-label inflation particularly harmful to low-income and minority students. They said 60 percent of low-income students, 65 percent of African American students and 57 percent of Hispanic students who had received course credit for geometry or algebra 2 in Texas failed a state exam covering material from geometry and algebra 1. By contrast, the failure rates for non-low-income and white students were 36 and 32 percent, respectively.
U.S. Education Department senior researcher Clifford Adelman, the government's leading authority on the links between high school programs and college completion, said some high school transcripts apply the label "pre-calculus" to any math course before calculus. Some students who had taken "pre-calculus," according to the transcripts he inspected, had skills so rudimentary that they were forced to take basic algebra in their first year of college.
The College Board's Advanced Placement program plans to ask teachers soon to fill out a form confirming that their course materials meet college-level standards. Jackson said one College Board official told her of a school that had started an AP Spanish course but was using seventh-grade workbooks.
AP courses at least have final exams, written and scored by outside experts, that reveal whether students have mastered the material. Wayne Bishop, a math professor at California State University in Los Angeles, examined an AP calculus class in a Pasadena, Calif., high school. All 23 students, Bishop found, got As and Bs from their teacher, but their grades on the AP exam were the college equivalent of 21 Fs and two Ds.
Read the whole thing.
Now first, let me take issue with that last paragraph, as an AP teacher. AP exams are scored on a 1-5 scale, with a 1 being lowest. I assure you that a 2 is not the same thing as a D. "Passing" is considered to be a 3 or better. Nonetheless, I wonder how college freshmen taking a survey course would fare on the exam-- it's pretty rigorous. I bet you'd see a lot of the same thing-- kids with grades of A or B but scoring 1 or 2. The AP exam for my subject area is normed so that the average score is BELOW a passing grade of 3.
But I have seen courses labelled as "AP" when the teacher actively discourages the students from taking the exam-- where, I assume, he only wanted to cherry-pick some of the best kids without having to do all the work that is involved when you teach in such a way as to help your students actually pass the exam. It's thanks to boobs like him that I am now filling out paperwork to prove that my course deserves the designation of "AP."
In our AP classes, we pretty much take all comers. Anyone who wants to take a spin on the wheel gets a ticket to the show. I've had kids who had pretty low grades in history the previous year plunk themselves down for a ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl. Some of them have risen to the occasion. Some have jumped off, screaming, at the amount of work required. I've had some kids who scored a 1 who told me that college was so much easier because they had taken my AP course and learned some study skills and content. Their test scores may not have shown it, but they considered themselves the better for the experience. Further, I don't discourage kids from taking the exam just to keep the scores artificially high. First, they're not "MY" scores. They're the kids' scores. Second, why put in all the work if you're not going to take the test?
Educators who create fake honors and AP courses only hurt their students. They're doing the worst thing a teacher can do to a student: lying to them.
Shame on them.