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AP Scores and Teacher Pass Rates

By December 15, 2009

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My local Florida newspaper published an article today about AP scores and how some teachers have very high pass rates while others have very low ones. The article then continues to discuss how the teachers affect student scores. One teacher was quoted as saying that a lower pass rate was acceptable for a first year AP teacher but after that it should start to rise.

While it is very true that the quality of an AP teacher is a huge part of how well students will do on their AP exams, the pass rate numbers are not always as cut and dry as they might seem. As a former AP Government teacher, I always prided myself on having pass rates that were higher than the state and national averages. However, over the years that I taught AP, I talked to many different teachers at different schools during AP conferences and workshops. One of the biggest complaints that some of these teachers had was that different schools have different philosophies of who gets to take AP. In fact, even within a school some teachers have a greater say over who gets in their class than others.

There was one AP teacher that I knew who always had a 100% pass rate. He hand selected his students and had between 6 and 8 who actually took the AP exam each year. This was not typical at our school. My AP students had to have taken Honors classes and maintained a B average to be accepted into the course. However, a parent could waiver in if their child did not meet these prerequisites.

However, there are some schools that have very few prerequisites for AP. The philosophy is that even if an Honors level student gets a 2 on the AP exam, they will get more out of the class than if they had taken a traditional Honors course. While this might be true for the student, it does hurt the passing percentages. I heard numerous teachers complain about this and the fact that they were judged partially based on this.

In conclusion, the teachers are huge in determining student success. However, at the same time, pass rates need to be analyzed based on the requirements that were used to allow students to get into the AP course to begin with.


December 21, 2009 at 7:40 am
(1) Rob says:

Scores may also be lower if students use taking AP tests as a way of exempting final exams. We’ve had that problem in my school.

December 21, 2009 at 10:02 am
(2) byron says:

Interesting, but what does it mean? Teaching to the test can be done, but the test may have NO BEARING on college success. My son gets about the same grades as his mom did in school. Yet his mom was 18th in a class of about 400 and my son has well over 50 people ahead of him. Grade inflation and students who test well on placement tests to me show there is so much more to a student than a GPA or ACT/SAT score.

December 21, 2009 at 2:37 pm
(3) yvonne bonilla says:

I have never had the opportunity to teach an AP course but when I get together with friends who do, the complaint is that not many students pass the AP test. Some years ago I taught in a private school where all of the AP teachers would decide who would take the test. The reason for this was that the teachers did not want to those students whom they suspected might fail and make their teachers “look bad”. I thought this was shameful because in a private school,parents pay more so their students can take an AP course.

December 28, 2009 at 6:54 am
(4) San D says:

I teach AP Art History, or what is commonly known as 30,000 years of art in 5 months. My philosophy is that I take all comers so that those art students who traditionally might not do well in an AP Class have the opportunity to take an art history class prior to their college experience. Most years my class average is the national. However, that said, my art students who may score low, come back from their first year of collage as A students in their art history classes, and many decide to minor in art history. The non art major students score higher, and find that APAH compliments their world history courses.

December 28, 2009 at 12:30 pm
(5) K. Allred says:

I have never believed that Advanced Placement courses belong in public education institutions. Nothing in your article would convince me otherwise. Taxpayer money should not be used to provide higher education (college course credit) within the secondary schools. Students should metriculate OUT of secondary schools BEFORE they can take college level or AP courses. That fact alone would save taxpayers millions of state monies. Furthermore, US high school students should be allowed to exit the public school system after age 16, instead of mandating ALL youth under 18 remain in school. Many students in this age range have exhausted their resources and need to be allowed to go to work fulltime, move away from their current school, or change their lives without the pressure of having to stay in a school they do not want to be in and from which they have ceased learning.

I should run for office, don’t you think?

December 30, 2009 at 10:07 am
(6) Kathy says:

I taught at the college and university level for many years and briefly at the high school level. Rather than teach students how to test well on AP tests and pursuing A’s, I wish parents and teachers would encourage the learning skills and a thirst of knowledge/learning (Eutopia, I know). Preparing students for life, for entering the world, for higher education — these are key roles for teachers AND parents.

January 2, 2010 at 8:34 pm
(7) George says:

I never taught AP courses, but I was a 9th grade Humanities teacher for advanced students. The class was the English credit for grade nine. However, I never left out the grammar, vocabulary, and the “old fashioned” things that many teachers had omitted from the curriculum. Literature included the classics including the Iliad, Julius Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra, poetry, and short stories. My students always did well in AP English, and each year the valedictorian or salutatorian or both were in that 9th grade class three years prior. The true test of my teaching came when students either in college or in their careers would tell me they learned more in my 9th grade English class than they did in the following three years of high school. My students grew up in a “mill town” in RI, and they succeeded. Among the many schools they received their college degrees are Harvard, Brown University, and Williams College. Sarah Lawrence, Emory, Dartmouth, Bowdoin, Bentley, New York University etc. (the list is rather lengthy).

July 12, 2010 at 5:47 pm
(8) bohica says:

I also taught at a private school, but the 10th grade students I taught had no background whatsoever in World History. There were no prerequisites unless you count that they paid their money and were entitled. The last time my students had any exposure to World History was in the 6th grade. Basically, the students I taught were all “Bambi in the headlights”. I worked my tail off teaching “regular” World History and AP World History at the same time! However, my success rate for my students on the AP World History Exam were extraordinary. My school required AP Saturdays and nearly killed me. But. For two of the four years that I taught the course, I had 100% passing. The dingbats allowed in my class opted not to take the Exam which was fine with me. And to top it all off, I was not “asked” back this year. I lost my job for reasons I cannot explain!

July 12, 2010 at 6:32 pm
(9) Mike Jankanish says:

I have been teaching AP American Government for 8 years. The class is open to anyone who wants to work hard. It is a college class. My test scores have ranged between 75-100% pass rate. Class grades predict test results (B; 3/4 on exam). This year I took over the AP U.S. History class from an instructor who had been teaching for years without good results (10% pass rate).
My first class scores are just in: 30 students; 30% pass rate. Better, but not as high as I want. I was certain several students who scored 2 would have done better. I am beginning to see the U.S. History exam might be one of the hardest. Any thoughts as to why this might be? The national pass rate also seems to be less by about 18% when compared to many other exams. Thanks for
any response.

May 25, 2011 at 3:03 am
(10) Allison says:

I have always loved math and numbers, so pass rates are very interesting to me. It is so ridiculous that teachers would hand pick certain students to take the class or ultimately take the exam to make themselves look good. People will eventually see through them.

In my high school, our AP government teachers are VERY popular due to their teaching methods and HIGH pass rates. Particularly our AP Gov teacher. Every year his class sizes grew and eventually he had to share with another teacher because the course became so popular.
Long story short, even with an unrestricted and growing class size (from 170+ students in ’09), his pass rate continues to grow (from 89% in ’09).
Of the 170 students, 168 took the test, resulting in an 89% pass rate. Compared to the national average in the low teens, I am proud to have called him my teacher.

April 13, 2012 at 12:04 pm
(11) CSK says:

Most AP teachers know that in order to pass an AP exam, the student must get approximately 45% of the exam correct (some years even less) in order to get a 3, approximately 60+% to get a 4 (most universities will except 4s) and 72+% to get a 5. If I’m teaching an AP course in high school then I need to teach that course at a college level. If after teaching that course one of my students cannot get 45% or higher on the exam ( a college level exam ) and they passed my course with a C or better, then what exactly does that say about the course that I am teaching? Students will rise to the level of expectations, especially in an AP class. If it is expected that they are to pass a college level exam and there is a tradition of passing the exam, then they will. If the AP exam is a mere after thought or the teacher does not place significant value on the exam then similar results will follow.

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