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AP Tests and the Ratings Game

July 4, 2017

Diane Ravitch had two posts yesterday on AP tests: one questioning their validity and another questioning them in the context of Washington Post columnist Jay Matthews’ misbegotten rating system.


In response to one of them, I offered my thoughts on AP, from a retired Superintendent’s perspective and a parent’s perspective:

First, and most importantly, Jay Matthews’ attempts to rate schools— like ANY attempt to rate schools— reinforces the notion that parents are “consumers” who can select public schools. This might be true for affluent parents who are choosing which suburban enclave they want to live in but it clearly isn’t and never will be true for poor minority parents.

Second, the community where I last led a public school system– Hanover NH, home to Dartmouth College— did not offer AP courses when I retired in 2011. As a result, it was not as highly rated by Jay Matthews’ metric as other NH school districts. While some parents wished we offered AP courses, the school boards I worked with supported the faculty at the HS who did not see the need for such courses. (see the next paragraph)

Third, even though Hanover HS did not offer AP courses, many Hanover HS students took the AP tests anyway… and typically those who did take the tests passed. This is a “secret” about AP that is not widely publicized: any student who pays the fee can take an AP test and have their scores reported to a college that cares about them… and any student taking a well taught calculus course, English course, foreign language course, or science course will likely do as well as a student enrolled in an AP course.

Finally, I do believe that SOME public schools benefit from offering AP courses. The rural MD HS my daughter attended (I’ll call it East Phippstitch HS) offered AP courses. I believe her scores on those tests effectively validated the quality of that HS to the competitive colleges she applied to in New England. Hanover HS has a reputation among many colleges. East Phippstitch HS did not. The fact that East Phippstitch offered AP courses and the fact my daughter scored well on those tests she took in her junior year MAY have been a factor in her gaining acceptance to schools that otherwise would have placed her application in another file.

The bottom line: whether to offer AP courses should be a local determination that is made independent of any artificial rating system like Jay Matthews’ index and made in concert with the administrators and teachers in the district.

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