Some Great Questions, A Few Answers

About two weeks ago, I got an email from a teacher who had been reading my blog and wanted my input on his personal situation.  I responded to him via email, but I thought that some of his questions and my subsequent responses might be of interest to others.  In tonight’s blog post, I have excerpted part of our conversation.  You will see his question or comment in black italics followed by my response in red.  I am hoping that some of you out there will chime in with your take on his situation and perhaps provide responses that are better than mine.

That said, my school is currently in the middle of district pressure to increase AP test score passing percentages across the board. They want increases this year, for which the only idea I can come up with is discourage weaker students from taking the exam,. . . .

So this is where I would have to start.  I would question whoever is applying the pressure to really think that goal through more carefully.  You can easily get 100% passing by testing 1 student who you are sure will pass.  An extreme example, but shows the fault in using passing percentage as your metric of success.  Why not look at passing rates per 1000 juniors and seniors?  That is the metric that TEA uses and keeps people from just testing the very best students.  It encourages schools to both enlarge the pool of testers AND the quality of testers.  A weaker student who chooses to take the exam will not negatively impact the metric.  I hate any policy that causes us to DISCOURAGE interested students from taking on academic challenges.  I want administrators to come up with policies and practices that encourage teachers and students to work hard to master challenging material.  If a kid gets a low score on an AP exam, it should do no harm to that student or to his teacher.  Despite the low score, the student probably gained a lot from having taken that AP class.

For ap in general, you posted ideas and incentives for increasing performance and participation, but what is a reasonable timeline to do so with modest goals of increasing by say, 20%? Do you see AP class growth as the AP teacher’s initiative or a cohesive school and district response? If school and district, who are the other key players besides counselors and what is their role?

I think it can be either, but it’s best if it is both.  Teachers definitely have to get on board and do the hard work of getting kids to achieve.  Administrators need to be there to provide an environment conducive to academic achievement and to put policies in place to support that achievement.  Just having administrators demanding high scores is not going to work.  (If it did, don’t you think TAKS scores would be much higher??)   Even the best intentioned, hardest working teacher will not have as much success as possible if other key players are not pulling in the same direction.  I think school leaders (principals and dept chairs) have to be a part of the effort.  In my previous post, I also mentioned the important part that school counselors play in building a successful AP program.  In my next post, I will also discuss the vital role played by preAP teachers whose classes feed your program.

The goal of increasing 20% is hard to analyze out of context.  A lot depends on where you are starting from.  A school might have had an awful AP teacher and someone new with training and passion comes in and brings the scores up several hundred percent!  If achievement is already really good, it’s harder to go much higher.  There are so many variables here, including the prior preparation of the students, the preparation of the teacher and the general academic culture of the school, that it’s very difficult to answer effectively.  What additional plans and resources have administrators put in place in addition to demanding higher scores?  Have the committed to sending teachers to training?  Are they willing to pay for Saturday prep sessions?  Will they allow teachers to work with senior AP students during TAKS week?  I think for every 5-10% increase they expect, they should have some very specific activities put in place to make that happen.  It’s easy to set goals; the hard work comes in planning and executing activities to make those goals a reality.

What does my reading audience think?  Are this teacher’s administrators setting reasonable goals?  What advice would you offer a teacher in this situation?


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