We’re Number Eight: Decoding the Advanced Placement Spin

SACRAMENTO – Last week the College Board released the results of Advanced Placement (AP) tests placing California eighth in the nation, with nearly one in five public school students scoring a college-credit-earning three or better on at least one 2007 AP exam. The news came with a positive spin, but there is a lot more to the story that policy makers and parents should know.

“California students do well on AP exams,” reads the headline in the Los Angeles Times. In the first paragraph, however, readers learn that, “the state’s overall performance slipped slightly from the previous year.” The performance of Latino students was a “bright spot,” but one that required some background.

The Times noted that Latino students make up 37 percent of public school students, but account for 30.7 percent of students scoring three or better on AP exams. It will come as no surprise that students who already speak Spanish might score high in Spanish AP courses. However, outside of the Spanish tests, only 16 percent of Latino students make the AP grade.

The Times also reported that African American students “performed dismally compared with their counterparts of other races.” They account for less than two percent of successful AP students—far less than their seven percent of the public school population. College Board vice president Trevor Packer pegs this as an “equity” issue, but it’s more basic. Some board officials lament that schools fail to encourage African-American students to take AP classes. It turns out that these are more common at schools in affluent suburbs than in the inner cities.

Some schools have dropped AP classes because they allegedly rely too much on “rote learning,” which educrats dislike but which is necessary for any kind of education worthy of the name. Language acquisition, the bar exam, architecture, and medical school all require rote learning. The AP classes, like K-12 education in general, remain not quite advanced enough. Consider the remedial rates at California’s universities.

At the University of California system, reserved for the top 12.5 percent of the high-school graduating class, a full 30 percent needs remedial education in either mathematics or English. In the California State University system, reserved for the top 33 percent, a full six out of 10 incoming students need remedial work in either mathematics or English. This year PRI will publish a paper on the remedial issue, but the key lessons should be clear. In California, even the best and brightest students need remedial education at unacceptable rates, and remedial education is not, strictly speaking, the business of a university.

A national AP ranking of eight and diminished performance from the previous year is hardly cause for positive spin or celebration. The new AP results are the latest confirmation that California’s K-12 system remains a vast collective farm of mediocrity, ignorance and failure. Under the current government monopoly regime, parents pay and bureaucrats decide. Parents and students remain unable to choose a school that offers more AP classes, or one that implements high standards and accountability.

If California wants to be number one in Advanced Placement, or anything else, the state needs to implement full parental choice in education as a matter of basic civil rights.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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