A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Saturday, September 23, 2006

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.


At 9/23/06, 8:48 PM, Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Well stated, Ms. Cornelius. I think you're right on the money regarding the comparisons of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 to F, D, C, B, A. I think about how demanding my social studies classes were in college, and there is no question that my AP American Government class for high school seniors is tougher than most of them.

At 9/23/06, 9:05 PM, Anonymous MellowOut said...

I was in honors classes in high school, which, with the exceptions of the science classes and the senior English classes, basically weren't much different than "regular" classes in terms of the curriculum. We had no AP courses, but there was the possibility of attending classes at the local community college to count toward university. (It was referenced as AP courses by the school administration.) I did take the AP test, though, and was suprised when I passed because I took it with other students who had gone to the college.

When I went back to my local high school for practicum, they had dropped honors classes altogether, and sent higher-level English and math students to the community college. Sadly, there are still no AP classes offered at my old high school or at the high schools in the surrounding towns. I think it puts some students at a disadvantage because I was told by students who did go to the college that the classes were somewhat of a joke regarding their advanced curriculum.

At 9/24/06, 9:57 AM, Anonymous Lady S said...

I wondered if your school weights the AP classes differently. (is that a question?)

My HS has honors English and History, and kids take the AP exams on English, History, and Languages. My husband says they only called Senior English AP, the other 3 years were Honors.

But at my school our GPA was a 100 scale, not a 4.0. I don't understand these schools that allows kids to get higher than a 4.0, but not all kids are given this opportunity.

At 9/24/06, 3:22 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Our students receive an extra weight in an AP or Honors class-- for example, an A gets them a 5 instead of a 4. Weighted grading stops if your grade is below a C-- I was one of the people who fought for that. The argument was that D was "passing"-- but to me, it's not.

I had no opportunity to take AP in high school, and they would not allow me to leave during the day to take college courses (our honors classes were pretty much a joke)-- so I spun my wheels my senior year. Part of it had to do with me being already younger than most others in my grade. I got to take art, which was great, but I could have saved some money if I had gotten some college credit.

And Dennis-- there is no way I would say that a kid with a 2 deserved a D. The average score is a 2 plus some decimals!

At 9/24/06, 4:43 PM, Blogger Fred said...

I'm the same way. I encourage everyone to take my class. I could care less about my pass rate. If I can take a student from a regular class and improve his/her writing and reading skills, we win.

Our district also assigns an extra weight to honors and AP classes. They should.

At 9/24/06, 6:45 PM, Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Just so we're clear, Ms. Cornelius, that's what I understood you were saying in your post, and I agree. The two scales are not the same.


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