Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Lower Standards, Lower Success

The Washington Post reports on minorities taking AP classes and exams, but misses a pretty crucial observation on affirmative action.

Across the Washington region, more black and Hispanic students are participating in highly touted Advanced Placement courses. Now, educators say they have to make certain that those students are not only taking the classes but are succeeding in them.


For many years, AP held barriers for minority students, said George P. Arlotto, principal of Wheaton High School in Montgomery County and a former AP teacher. "A lot of schools throughout the country created prerequisites to get into AP classes. Today, we've taken those barriers down. We tell the students, 'If you have the desire, then we want you in the class.' "


At Wheaton... the number of students taking the AP exams has grown almost sixfold -- from 46 in 2001 to 247 in 2005. Arlotto said that's partly because educators are making more of an effort to encourage students to take the difficult coursework.

But Wheaton is a prime example of the next phase in AP. Although more students are enrolling, not all are achieving passing scores on the AP exams. In 2005, only 37.4 percent of the students who took an exam scored a 3 -- the minimum passing score -- or better, compared with 67.5 percent in 2001.

So the school lowered its standards, saw a forty-five percent drop in passage rates, and now they're starting to wonder why.

Then there's this meaningless statement:
In Fairfax County, the number [of students taking AP exams ] grew 32.2 percent, but the percentage of black and Hispanic students taking the tests... remained steady at about 9 percent over the five-year period.
I'll avoid reviewing basic math here, but that means that the number of black and Hispanic students taking the exams also increased around 32 percent. The rest of the article is filled with more statistics without any meaningful analysis.

I took four AP exams in high school, only two of which (Calculus AB & BC) were even arguably attached to a high school course. One teacher questioned whether I would be able to pass the other two (U.S. & Comparative Government and Politics) on my own - but I already knew much of the information and learned the rest independently. I passed them all with 4's and 5's (5 is the highest score). Prerequisites should not be an absolute barrier for AP classes, but just whining about diversity and regurgitating statistics doesn't get us anywhere.

The problem that is apparent from this article is one of the fundamental flaws of affirmative action - putting people in educational settings that they would not qualify for on merit, leading to failure and discouragement. The question shouldn't be why some minorities aren't passing the exams, but why they weren't qualified for the classes in the first place.

No comments: