Jessica Lahey’s recent NYTimes article, “To AP or Not to AP, That is the Question” did a good job of outlining the dimensions of what I call the AP Paradox. For some students and teachers in some districts, teaching to the AP test is a constraint. In other districts where students are not typically college bound and funds are tight, introducing AP courses that enable a student to earn college credits is an incentive.
Having led districts that serve predominantly affluent and well educated parents and less affluent districts that had relatively few college graduates among the parent population, I have lived through both sides of the argument involving AP testing and ended up with the belief that the value of AP is situational.
In the two affluent districts I led, the reputation of their high schools was well established in college admissions offices and most of the students were applying to competitive colleges who generally do not award academic credit for AP classes. Moreover, in those districts the talent level for teachers was high because the upperclassmen required content that was typically college level. Many of these teachers believed that teaching-to-the-AP-test limited their flexibility and academic freedom and argued, as Lahey noted in her article, that students were free to take AP Tests even if they did not take an “AP Course”. In these districts I fully and whole heartedly supported the teachers’ argument even though some in the community expressed concerns about the loss of status because we didn’t offer explicit AP courses.
In the one largely blue collar district I led the AP “credential” was helpful for students. It helped those aspiring to competitive colleges because it provided a standard that admissions officers in those colleges could use to rate applicants even if they never heard of the high school. It helped first generation college students applying to community colleges or State colleges because it gave them an opportunity to earn college credits as an undergraduate. The AP credential was also helpful in our efforts to expand our programs at the high school level because voters understood that by offering AP Courses we were demonstrating a commitment to academic rigor and helping students prepare for college and the careers that required college degrees. In this district I wholeheartedly supported the Principals, central office staff, and Board in advocating for the introduction and subsequent expansion of AP courses.
And therein lies the AP Paradox. I personally believe that criterion referenced tests are superior to standardized achievement tests, which leads me to fully support the opportunity for students to take the AP tests. Yet I also believe that Boards and administrators should honor the professionalism of teachers; and because some districts (and ETS) believe that AP Tests should be linked to AP Courses and those AP Courses have prescribed curricula the teachers’ flexibility and freedom is diminished. Moreover, the notion that passing one standardized test administered in one sitting can replace a college course is unsettling. Criterion referenced tests can measure accumulation of knowledge but some form of observation or skill measurement is also required to provide assurance that a student has mastered the concepts included in a college course.
To AP or Not to AP? Here’s Lahey’s concluding paragraph, which takes the question out of the school or district level to the personal level… which in the end is where it belongs:
A.P. courses are, for the most part, rigorous, challenging and demanding, and can be a real boon to students motivated by intellectual curiosity and a love of learning. For students looking to please their parents or for those in pursuit of transcript padding and other false academic idols, A.P. courses can be an unpleasant and unhealthy slog. Therefore, in deciding whether or not an A.P. class is “worth it,” students and parents must figure their own motivations and values into the equation.
An article by Anna North in today’s NYTimes, “Can Brain Science Be Dangerous”, suggests that some of the widely publicized research on brain science, and particularly the brightly colored brain scans that often accompany the articles on this subject, are drawing people towards conclusions that are not true or accurate. My take on the article was that the brain science findings are akin to Rorschach tests: they invite the viewer to see whatever they want to see and project it as reality. This is most troubling when scientific findings about the brain are applied to broad social issues like poverty. Some research suggests that poverty creates stresses in the lives of children that irreversibly limit brain growth while other research suggests that if interventions are applied early and effectively those same stresses can be overcome. This can enable politicians to use “science” to support whatever their views are. With this as a backdrop, one American sociologist, Susan Sered, offered this observation:
…used incorrectly, neuroscience might spread the view that poor people are lesser than others, that they are irrevocably debilitated by their experiences with poverty — or, conversely, that if they fail to respond to programs that science says will help them, it must be their own fault.
North sums up the concerns of social and neurological scientists in her concluding paragraph:
People… seem to find neuroscience extremely persuasive, even when it’s wrong. And this may be part of what critics fear — that images and facts about the brain are so powerful, they can make us believe things we really shouldn’t.
I would take it a step further and suggest that “images and facts about the brain are so powerful, they can support our wrong beliefs and close our minds to contradictory and new findings.”
I did some consulting in VT for the past two years where legislation was passed to promote school consolidation and worked with a consortium of small districts in Northern NH on ways to collaborate. The bottom line in New England is that small towns want to retain their local schools even if they are economically inefficient and their local elected school board members are not necessarily interested in regional purchasing if it means that local businesses might suffer. I find the sentiment to retain of local schools parallels the desire to retain local post offices. Schools and post offices define the communities and if either disappear the sense of community disappears. These small towns have seen how Dollar Stores, convenience store chains, and Walmarts have undercut local businesses and they want to hold on to their last community institutions at all costs. It’s clear to me that given the choice between a “large and diverse” set of offerings or “intimacy and close relationships” local boards in NE rural communities will pay a premium to keep local schools no matter their size.
Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:
Joanne Yatvin has been a teacher, a principal, and a superintendent in Oregon. She is a reading specialist. Here she defends the small school idea. My own view is that there is a trade-off. A large school offers a large and diverse curriculum. A small school offers intimacy and close relationships. Some students prefer small schools, others do not. I am agnostic.
An editorial published earlier this month in the New York Times heralded the success of three small, specialized high schools created by former mayor Michael Bloomberg. A multiyear study showed that disadvantaged students at those schools did better academically than those in large, traditional high schools and were more likely to enroll in college. Within a few days Diane Ravitch posted a piece on her blog written by an unnamed researcher at the NYC Department of Education who questioned the verity of those results. He claimed that the…
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Frank Bruni’s column in today’s NYTimes, “Promiscuous College Come-Ons” made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. Bruni has consistently trumpeted the market based “reforms” of Bloomberg et al and after reading this column it is evident that he cannot see the ultimate consequences of subjecting all schools to the marketplace…. which led me to make this comment:
How do you reconcile your criticism for colleges shamelessly marketing themselves with your avid support for the “market based” school reform? In the world of school reformers EVERY school will need to spend money on recruitment and there will be little or no regulation on how the schools advertise themselves. The only good result of “market based” charter schools will be that by the time a student graduates from high school they will be inured to the “promiscuous promotions” presented by colleges.
The other ironic criticism was his implication that Swarthmore was lowering the rigor of its application process in order to game the statistics in the US News and World Report that give schools a higher ranking if they are “more selective”. Again, there is much data to support the fact that for-profit charter schools do the same thing to demonstrate the “demand” for their openings…. and there is Campbell’s Law which Wikipedia defines as follows:
“The more any quantitative social indicator (or even some qualitative indicator) is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”
To paraphrase: institutions— even respected institutions— will do everything possible to game the system in order to improve their standing in the eyes of “consumers”. If we want to measure effectiveness we should make sure the data we use to do so cannot be easily gamed and the algorithms we use emphasize the most important qualities we are seeking.
If we want to institute market based schools, we should be prepared for more “promiscuous promotion” at earlier and earlier ages… and maybe add b.s. detection to the Common Core.
Diane Ravitch writes: “At some point, someone will have to admit that the Common Core and the tests are so “rigorous” that the students who succeed are being prepared for elite universities, not for state universities, and not for career readiness.”…. or MAYBE at some point we will acknowledge that if we truly want all students to meet the standards we should give them enough time to do so. Is there ANY evidence that students mature at the same rate physically? Do we declare a young man to be “failing” if he hasn’t started shaving when he’s 15 because most boys, on average, begin to grow facial hair around the age of 15? If we think such a test of physical growth is preposterous why do we put so much stock in the assumption that tests of intellectual growth are meaningful? If we expect performance to be constant we need to make time variable.
Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:
Valerie Strauss has a fascinating column about the scoring of the Smarter Balanced assessment. It appears that the achievement levels mirror the levels on NAEP. Understanding the scoring process is not easy. Apparently only the students in the top two levels will be considered “college-ready,” as befits a very rigorous curriculum. This means that less than half of the 11th grade students will be on track to go to college. In terms of mathematics, only one-third will be college-ready. The scoring ends with the rather ominous statement that Smarter Balance has not yet figured out a scoring guide for “career readiness.” Since there is so little in the Common Core that is related to career readiness, this is understandable. Very likely, the students who are involved in career and technical education will be in the lower bands and won’t be eligible to go to college.
I served on the…
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