kitchen table math, the sequel: onward and upward

Friday, June 1, 2012

onward and upward

student achievement in my district


SteveH said...

"Equity & Excellence is “the percentage of graduates who passed at least one college-level test [AP or IB] during their high school career.”"

"at least one"

Our high school has a banner-award from the College Board about this percentage. In some ways, it can be good, but you have to be careful about what it means. Our school pushes AP and offers things like AP Art and AP Music. These aren't fluff courses, but the "at least one" percent is open to manipulation. Also, AP is promoted at our school because those classes have a weighting value of 3.7, whereas the honors classes have a weighting vaule of 3.4, and the regular CP classes have a weighting value of 3. Those differences are huge.

Our school had an AP open house where students and teachers talked about how difficult (or not) the classes were. Some students talked about how they were taking AP Music or Art, but, HaHa, LOL, would never take an AP math or science course. At this point, it's easy for high schools to increase this percentage without having to deal with many systemic problems. Then again, it's good to offer and promote things like AP Music and Art to students who might have little else to showcase their abilities.

Does Irvington have a philosophy about this, or is it clueless? Does it weight AP classes higher than honors classes? A neighboring high school in our area doesn't use weighted GPAs. Students are torn between maximizing their class rank and showing colleges that they challenge themselves. Then again, our high school has an AP arms race. My son will take 3 in his junior year and 5 in his senior year. It would be more, but he won't drop orchestra.

ChemProf said...

I do think that high schools oversell AP. Many colleges limit how many AP credits can be applied to the degree, for example, and most only give credit for 4's or 5's, not for 3's as students are often told. On the other hand, it certainly shows that students are taking challenging coursework.

Catherine Johnson said...

At this point, it's easy for high schools to increase this percentage without having to deal with many systemic problems.

Irvington has no interest whatsoever in improving this score (although that may change with the new superintendent).

We have grade deflation.

The latest thing the school has done is to change to number grades that have to be transposed to letter grades, which results in loss of all kinds of points ... too tired to explain it now.

The point is: Irvington has been proudly and openly committed to NOT 'competing' and NOT trying to increase student achievement.

We have at least 90% of students going to college, but only 55% passing even one AP course.

As to AP science & math, we have all the problems there that Attewell discusses in his article: only a handful of students take those courses, and the school does not want to increase those numbers.

The energy here all goes into keeping kids out of Honors courses, not preparing them to get into Honors courses.

AP is open enrollment, presumably because the old Challenge Index gave credit simply for having lots of kids in AP courses.

My district is a sorting machine.

Catherine Johnson said...

chemprof- none of the high schools in these parts is selling AP courses at all. Administrators hate AP (in my experience): way too much content, way too 'disciplinary,' etc.

If they could get away with it, every administrator in Westchester County would dump AP tomorrow & bring in IB or Cambridge global shmobal.

In Scarsdale - my favorite example - AP courses are gone but of course kids still want and need the AP credt.

So parents are paying $400/hour to AP tutors to prepare their kids for AP exams because Scarsdale doesn't offer AP courses any more.

They have "AT" courses: Advanced Topics.

They're interdisciplinary!

Amy P said...

Are IB courses very much inferior?

What does Cambridge do?

It seems really weird to go reaching for that exotic stuff when the AP system is so established and respected and produces free credits that transfer. I had only had 2 AP classes from high school (we only had 2 AP offered), but even that offered some breathing room in my college schedule.

ChemProf said...

I've seen fewer students with IB than AP credit, but at least some IB programs are terrific. But it does have some weird interdisciplinary components.

Grace said...

Also, AP is promoted at our school because those classes have a weighting value of 3.7, whereas the honors classes have a weighting vaule of 3.4, and the regular CP classes have a weighting value of 3.

Can you explain how this works? For example, if a student earns a 4.0 in an AP course, what would you multiply by to get the weighted score?

Genevieve said...

What do people think about the IB primary and middle years programs?
There is a growing movement in our school district to switch schools over to these programs. This includes the elementary school that we are zoned for and some of the better middle schools (though not our neighborhood middle school).

SATVerbalTutor. said...

Not that I'm such a huge fan of AP, but there is something to be said for taking an exam that's scored by objective outside graders. I tutored a kid from Scarsdale who was still having trouble with the *concept* of using specific examples in an essay (as opposed to just making lots of baseless assertions) yet was getting an A in "AT" History. Something's clearly wrong there. I also recall reading an NY Times article a couple of years ago in which a Scarsdale student was essentially quoted as saying that he was so much happier to get to study interesting things like the 60s rather than boring stuff like the Civil War.

As for the perennial rank/GPA dilemma, it's a lot less important than most people think it is. Admissions officers aren't stupid. It's their business to know what a hard schedule at a particular school is: a kid who's taking AP Calc, Physics, Spanish, and Lit but who has a slightly lower GPA/rank than one who isn't won't be penalized. The whole thing is essentially a moot point. The only rule is to take hard classes and do really well. If you're taking lots of APs and want to drop down to honors for one class, it won't kill your chances anywhere provided that you're a very strong candidate otherwise. That's what "holistic review" means.

Bostonian said...

According to a 2008 NYT article "Scarsdale Adjusts to Life Without Advanced Placement Courses", "Physics students now study string theory — a hot topic in some college courses that is absent from the Advanced Placement exam."

This is absurd, since high school students are years away from having the background to study string theory.

SATVerbalTutor. said...

Exactly. It's jumping all the basics to get the interesting stuff, which of course you can't properly understand unless you've done the grunt work of acquiring the basics. No high school junior who hasn't mastered how to use specific examples to support an argument should be in advanced humanities classes. Period. At least when kids take the AP exam, there's some sort of feedback from people other than their teachers. From what I've seen, the shift away from AP is mostly a way for wealthy suburban schools (and some private) to avoid teaching the basics and to flatter the parents by promoting the myth that their students are too special and too advanced for a silly standardized test.

It really doesn't matter whether you call an AP class and AP class or something else: if the class covers the material well enough, the students should be able to pass without massive amounts of test-prep. People have a tendency to miss that high scores on AP exams can sometimes reflect actual knowledge, not just drilling for the test.

AmyP said...

"What do people think about the IB primary and middle years programs?"

While high school IB may have its merits, I'm pretty suspicious of the elementary IB. I saw some materials about it on an MD school website some years back, and they had some dubious claims about how the kids were going to do analysis of ecological issues in Chesapeake Bay. OK, maybe they had some amazing program for doing this, but it seems to me that kids that age simply do not have the background knowledge to do more than regurgitate whatever they're taught about Chesapeake Bay ecology. There's no way little kids can do real, independent research on that sort of thing.

Anonymous said...

Yes, elementary and middle years IB is different from the Diploma Program years. However, if you hope to run a successful DP, at least 9th and 10th grade have to be pretty rigorous.

As an SAT tutor, I'll say that the IB kids can write -- that is, they can sit down and churn out a page or 2 pages or 5 pages of decent writing on most any topic. That's a plus. In our school, the history teachers are the strongest and the science the weakest. Thus, our kids do really well in history and English and you might view the program as less good for science.

However I'd bet there are schools where the reverse is true!

I do appreciate that IB has more "controls" on scoring and grading. For instance, teachers grade some of the work, but there is a lot of work that is sent in. In languages, videotapes are sent in. Teachers have to (every year? every other? I'm not sure) send in their highest graded and lowest graded paper with their scoring and comments. Then IB folks score it as well and give them feedback.

I also really like Theory of Knowledge, but that may have more to do with my kids. It's basically an intro to philosophy for HS students.

IB does accredit programs and does site visits every x number of years, with a full report of what's working and what needs to change.

Again, though, earlier years are probably squishier than might be desired!

Cassandra Turner said...

"What do people think about the IB primary and middle years programs?"

IB PYP & MYP programs frequently pop up in struggling schools losing students due to demographics as a way to pump up the numbers in the schools.

This happened 10 years ago in a local high school, then the program trickled down to some feeder schools.