Monday, February 21, 2011

Please Give Us More AP (and IB) Data

by Joseph Hawkins

I’m completely sucked in.

I want to see more Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Advanced Placement (AP).  But given the countywide expansion of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program into nearly every county high school, I also want to see IB facts and figures.

Here is some of what MCPS needs to make available for public consumption.

§         AP student enrollment facts and figures: Currently, MCPS shares only facts and figures about AP exam-takers. The problem is not every AP course participant sits for an exam. So, how many students actually enroll in AP course offered by MCPS? How many students never sit for an exam?

§         IB student enrollment facts and figures: The last time MCPS shared information on IB enrollees and IB test performance was January 2006 (MCPS report: An Examination of the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate Exam Results for 2004-2005). Clearly, current facts and figures are long overdue. So, for example, how many IB exams are MCPS students taking now?  How black male students earned an IB diploma? How many MCPS students on FARMS and attending a red zone high school earned an IB diploma?

§         Grades earned by AP and IB students:  It would be outstanding for MCPS to reveal details about how AP and IB students perform. Do students who take an exam have better end-of-course grades than students who do not take an exam? What do the end-of-course grades, for example, look like for black males receiving free and reduced meals (FARMS)?

§         IB program participant cross-overs: I have heard from a few MCPS parents that their IB children not only sat for their IB exams but they also crossed over and sat for a fair number of AP exams. Given the popularity of the IB program in our public county high schools, how common is this practice? When it happens what does performance look like for the IB kids?

§         College graduation rates for AP and IB students: In May of 2010, MCPS released a report that looked at AP exam-takers and college competition (MCPS report: Advanced Placement Examination as a Key to Postsecondary Success). The problem with the report is it combined exam-takers into two groups, those with an AP exam score of 3 or higher and those with an AP exam score below 3. The group with a score of 3 or higher had better college completion rates. In 2008, the College Board performed a similar study (College Outcomes Comparisons by AP and Non-AP High School Experiences—see link below). The College Board study is absolutely full of details while the MCPS study is absent details. In fact, the College Board study underscores the value of showing college competition rates by scores and not combining them into large groups. The graduation rates, for example, are vastly different between high school graduates scoring a 1 and graduates scoring a 2, as well as between graduates scoring a 3 and those scoring a 4 or 5. So, how do MCPS students differ when the details are revealed?

Here is the link to the College Board study: 

Finally, I would highly recommend that readers go to the College Board website and read the above mentioned study. I’m in awe over the level of detail provided by the researchers. The College Board researchers literally throw the kitchen sink at us (sometimes that is a good thing). In the end, assuming one is patient, one understands that saying that an AP exam score of 3 or higher predicts college success comes with a fair number of qualifiers and caveats. Those qualifiers are possible, however, because the College Board researchers showed us the details. And it is the details that many of us want to see when MCPS issues public reports. 


  1. You could use absolutely any test- AP- SAT - Final exam- and it would be correlated with success in college. The focus on and argument for a 3 or higher as the threshold for college success is specious, in my opinion.

  2. I don't disagree with your main point, 10:38, but advanced placement tests are written at a college level and are therefore more challenging than a county final exam, for example. So although a 3 translates into "qualified," which is still middle of the road, it's still academically more rigorous in terms of expectations. Having taught AP language, I can say confidently that it is one of the most difficult subjects offered at the high school level.

  3. Qualified? For what? It's nothing to many colleges.

  4. 7:12 - That's quite the attitude you have, isn't it? Why challenge yourself when ultimately it "doesn't count" toward credit. Way to instill a love of learning in your children!

  5. Thanks for the MCPS PR comment! Great that you all earn your pay. It's time for you to stand behind your statements with your name. If you believe in what you are saying, then sign your name.

    AP classes aren't about a love of learning. They are about mastering one test by practicing the same test over and over and over and over and over. That's not learning. That's test prep. The end result? The Jay Mathews Challenge Index, which has no bearing on where a child will go to college but everything to do with the MCPS "brand" that 850 Carver admins spend their day hawking for their resumes.


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