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Ed. Dept.'s Pitch to Scale Back Collection of AP Test Data Raises Eyebrows

By Alyson Klein — August 30, 2017 4 min read
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The U.S. Department of Education is contemplating changes to its signature Civil Rights Data Collection for the coming school year, including asking districts for new information on computer science and internet connectivity, while scaling back requirements for collecting Advanced Placement test data.

The department wants to stop asking districts for data on Advanced Placement performance—how well students do on the tests. But it would keep in place AP participation data—how many kids take the tests.

That’s raised eyebrows among some advocates for educators, civil rights groups, and the College Board, the nonprofit that administers the exam. They’re worried that looking only at participation in the courses will gloss over whether students, including historically disadvantaged groups of kids, are mastering college-level work. (More on their concerns below).

The CRDC tracks everything from school suspensions to early-childhood education to access to advanced coursework. Both of President Barack Obama’s secretaries of education—Arne Duncan and John B. King Jr.—pointed to the civil rights data collection to highlight resource disparities between high- and lower-poverty schools.

The department is mulling other changes to the collection too, including removing chronic absenteeism from the data set, because the information is gathered through another data set, EDfacts.

And the agency would like to collect some new information, especially when it comes to computer science education and internet access. For instance, the feds want to know how many computer science courses are offered, the number of computer science classes taught by certified teachers, and how many kids are enrolled in Advanced Placement Computer Science.

They also want to ask school districts about their technological capabilities, including Wi-Fi in classrooms, how many schools have fiber optic connections, and whether students are allowed to take Wi-Fi enabled devices home with them to complete classwork. Kids in rural areas have had a tough time accessing broadband, according to this great series by my colleague, Ben Herold.

The revisions to the CRDC didn’t originate with the Trump administration. The department first pitched the change to AP and other aspects of the CRDC back in December of 2016, when the Obama administration was still in office. The feds reached out to the education community for thoughts on the changes—and on the CRDC in general—and got more than a thousand comments. Dozens of commenters at that time asked the department not to make major changes to the CRDC, but didn’t specifically mention AP.

Last month, the agency, now controlled by the Trump administration, released a new document that reiterated its interest in nixing the collection of AP performance data. The agency wrote that the performance data is “extremely burdensome” for districts to collect in a reliable way.

The agency asked for a new round of feedback, and gave advocates until Aug. 21 to respond. A decision on the changes will be made once the department completes the required review process.

More than half a dozen commenters wrote in to question the change to Advanced Placement data collection. For instance:

The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund says access to AP isn’t enough; students need to actually be mastering the material:

The Department should continue to collect data on student performance on AP exams, because it is imperative that these classes are not only accessible but also equipping students with the instruction and support needed to be successful in the courses.

The National Education Association, a 3-million member union, had a similar take:

NEA disagrees with the assessment that the collection and reporting of AP exam results is burdensome and continues to believe that the removal of AP exam results is problematic. Just as access to schools is an incomplete indication of a quality education, so too is access to AP courses an inadequate demonstration of excellence. Schools should be transparent about both inputs and outputs. The removal of AP exam data eliminates this transparency and obstructs progress.

And the College Board, which administers the exams, also had some concerns. Participating in an AP class is helpful, wrote Jason D. Rohloff, vice president for policy and government relations, in a comment submitted Aug. 21. But success in the courses is the real predicator of how a student will do in college:

While AP participation data is important to assess student access to college‐level AP courses, particularly for students of color, low‐income students, English-learners, and students with disabilities, AP performance data for these students is critical to help schools identify achievement gaps and where additional resources could be helpful. Research shows students who score a 3 or higher on AP Exams earn higher GPAs in college and are more likely to complete college on time. Therefore, collecting and analyzing AP performance data is important to help schools identify needed interventions to help more students earn successful scores.

And when the idea of scrapping the performance data was first pitched in December, the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center expressed concerns:

We are concerned that the Advanced Placement exam participant results table has been proposed for retirement from the 2017-18 CRDC. It is important for community members to know how particular groups of students performed on the exams and not just whether they had access to AP courses. Having such information allows public stakeholders, as well as school administrators, the ability to observe inequities in outcomes, not just opportunity, and respond accordingly to meet the challenges students may face - through provision of additional resources or other locally determined solutions. Therefore, we recommend reinstating the Advanced Placement Exam Participant Results Table in the CRDC collection

Other commenters, including the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, a big umbrella organization, wrote in to reiterate the importance of keeping the universe of data the same as it is currently.

Most of the comments that mentioned the AP testing data were in favor of keeping it. But other commenters, who wrote more generally, praised efforts to scale back existing questions schools must answer about their students as new questions are added to the collection. State and district leaders have said the data collection can be burdensome for schools, especially smaller schools without staff dedicated to the effort.

“We encourage you to continue collaborating with local districts to streamline the data collection process and invest in tools to support their work,” wrote Kristen Amundson, the president and CEO of the National Association of State Boards of Education. “The CRDC reveals disparities and inequities that cannot be solved by enforcement alone.”

Want more? You can check out the comments submitted this summer for yourself here.

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