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2007 AP Stats From Illinois: The So-So, The Bad, And The Horrific

February 14, 2008

[Updated: 3:10 p.m., 2/18/2008]

Due to the boy’s arrival, my reading time’s been severely curtailed. No problem: I’m just being choosier about “leisure” reading. And of course things related to history and education are always in. With those subjects business is mixed with pleasure, for me at least. But since the Chicago Tribune did away with its education section (it’s only a category at their website, hence my link to the right), and history is only explicitly a part of the Trib’s daily “almanac”—curiously situated near the obits and the weather—I have to search for “my” topics.

Today, however, in the local “Metro” section, this piece rated second only to “news” about more El train delays. The story’s title in the print edition—“Low scores test the AP rush”—was less revealing than the e-Trib’s: “More Illinois students taking, failing Advanced Placement tests.”

The statistics go from ho-hum to shocking. Note: The article wasn’t 100 percent clear on whether ~all~ of these stats were for Illinois in particular, or the nation in general.

1. 66% of those taking AP exams in 2007 earned a “3” or higher; 72% did in 2002.

A decrease, but not horrific—to me at least.

2. In 2002, 63% of Latinos earned a 3 or better; only 54% did in 2007.

A 9% drop. Bothersome.

3. In 2002, 80% of Asian-American students earned a 3 or higher; 77% did in 2007.

Okay. Since the article tells us that students are enrolling in AP courses in record numbers, we should expect some drop. Still, the Latino drop is problematic. But then we get to a stunner.

4. In 2002, 24% of African-American students earned a 3 or better; 21% did in 2007.

You’ve got to be kidding me. The drop is bad enough, but 24% in 2002. Do Illinois schools teach African Americans in completely different classrooms? This is horrific.

5. No stats were given on the pass/fail rates of “white” students. In Chicago this would be problematic anyway, as the past fifteen years have seen a dramatic increase in new arrivals from Eastern Europe (particularly what was Yugoslavia).

More from the piece:

– “Experts say the results suggest that the explosion of AP courses has resulted in watered-down curriculum in some districts. They also say that many minority students flocking to the college prep courses are not ready for what they face.”

TL: A watered-down curriculum doesn’t adequately explain a 21 percent passing rate for African-American students in 2007. And it’s a good thing that an expert is there to tell us that minority students “are not ready for what they face” in AP exams. But WHY? And WHY weren’t they five years ago?

– “Last year, the College Board launched an audit of every AP class in the nation and found that one-third did not meet the academic requirements, based on the class syllabus. The courses were revamped and, eventually, 93 percent passed muster.”

TL: The College Board tightened the ship: good for them. This explains the drop more than a “watered down curriculum” or increased numbers taking the test. But wait, if 7 percent of formerly existing AP courses didn’t pass muster, that seems to indicate that nationwide more students are being crammed into fewer slots. Perhaps this is happening in Illinois? If so, it stands to reason that the decreased ability of teachers to give personal attention to their students might explain part of the drop. Are schools outlaying less money to their AP programs, or at least not making a stronger effort to make outlays proportional to enrollments? If so, that’s a management problem, not a student or curricular one.

– “In Illinois, about 22 percent of the 2007 graduating class took at least one AP exam during high school, compared with 16 percent five years ago. The largest increase came among African-American students.”

TL: Hold on. We’re enrolling record numbers of African American students in AP courses, in which they haven’t traditionally done well ~and~ where presently teachers are being spread thin, and we’re considering poor performance NEWS? Holy BeJesus. Who’s running this asylum anyway?

– “Many districts, including Chicago Public Schools, have focused on enrolling more minority students in AP courses. Five years ago, about 6 percent of the district’s high school students enrolled in AP courses. Last year, 11 percent did so.”

TL: And Chicago Public School teachers, in general, are not given the resources to pump out positive curve busting students. Again, we’re enrolling historically poor performers in a system with higher student-teacher ratios, then being surprised(!) when they don’t do well.

– “And even though a higher percentage of these students are not making the grade on the exams, many educators and students argue that simple exposure to the tougher course work helps students in the long run.”

TL: Fine. But let’s not be surprised when “record” numbers aren’t passing.


It seems to me that the first thing for Illinois administrators of AP classes to find out is whether more students are being put into fewer classes, resulting in higher student-teacher ratios. If the ratios are higher, then simply employ more teachers. If that doesn’t help after a few years, then flog the teachers for “watering down the curriculum.”

Why do I care? I’m slated to grade AP history exams this summer. The news in this article means I might enjoy the evening adult beverages more than the exams. – TL


6:56 p.m. Update: Here’s the New York Times‘s headline on A.P. statistics: “Larger Share of Students Succeed on A.P. Tests.” Go figure.


2/18/2008, Monday, 3:10 p.m.: Late last week, the article’s author, Stephanie Banchero, wrote me on the side with two extras:

a. The link for the original study is here.
b. “FYI, the pass rate for white kids is 77% and was 77% in 2002.” – TL

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