Education Letter to the Editor

Using ‘Outmoded Practice’ to Report AP Pass Rates?

March 11, 2008 1 min read

To the Editor:

Thanks to efforts by state and local policymakers across the country, more public school students—especially minority students—are taking Advanced Placement tests, as your article “AP Trends: Tests Soar, Scores Slip” (Feb. 20, 2008) justly points out. But to say that scores have “slipped” on AP exams is a stretch of logic.

Using raw data, the number of students nationwide who scored at mastery—meaning a score of 3 or above—on at least one AP exam increased from 404,495 in 2006 to 425,733 in 2007. Since students often take an AP exam in more than one subject, if we count the total number of scores at mastery we see an increase from 980,969 to 1,121,047.

In our efforts to expand minority and low-income students’ access to the Advanced Placement program, we encourage schools to use the entire student body when calculating AP performance. This creates an incentive for schools to open up challenging classes to as many students as possible.

The only way an analysis can say test scores have fallen is if success is calculated using the total number of AP test-takers for an individual school, rather than the school’s entire student body. The former practice has been long out of favor by educators and policymakers alike, as it encourages schools to funnel into AP classes only the students that a school is confident will do well on the exam. A school can easily have a 100 percent pass rate if it allows only the top students to take AP exams. Education Week seems to be alone in its insistence on using the outmoded practice in its reporting.

Let’s send the message that AP is not just for the elite, but for the prepared.

David Wakelyn

Senior Policy Analyst

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices

Washington, D.C.

A version of this article appeared in the March 12, 2008 edition of Education Week as Using ‘Outmoded Practice’ to Report AP Pass Rates?