Yesterday, there was some exciting news out of New Orleans. I learned about it from a tweet by TFA co-CEO Elisa Villanueva-Beard.
Now I’ve written before about The New Orleans ‘Miracle.’ They generally have a way of twisting whatever numbers they get into something that they can celebrate. In this case, I read the article from the Times-Picayune with the impressive headline ‘Louisiana students earn most Advanced Placement credits in state’s history’ This was also reported on New Orleans channel 8 website KNOE.
In that KNOE report it begins:
Governor Bobby Jindal and State Superintendent John White announced that the number of college credits earned on Advanced Placement (AP) exams has increased by more than 1,000 credits or 25 percent over the past year—the greatest individual increase in state history. Louisiana high school students scored high enough to earn college credit on 5,144 AP exams in 2013.
The credits earned by students who scored a 3, 4 or 5 on the AP exams are transferable to nearly any college in the nation, and Louisiana leads the country in growth of number of exams taken. 10,529 students took the AP exam in 2013, which is 4,000 more students than last year.
Oh boy. Instantly I was able to see through the nonsense.
John White, who I once had a nice chat with while he was still in New York, chimed in.
We went back and forth a bit on this. Though this is something that sounds good, I disagree with it. Having kids take AP tests and getting ones and twos on them is not a very good use of time and money. Yes, teachers should give their students ‘rigorous’ tasks — assuming that just means something that is not rote and mindless but something that really requires students to think about things. But that can be done with material that students are ready for too. So I don’t think that making kids take APs really accomplishes much.
In the Times-Picayune article they indicated “the percentage of students passing the exam dropped from 44 percent to 33 percent: 3,501 of the 10,529 test-takers.” So in 2012, 41% (the article had this number wrong) of students who took at least one AP test passed at least one, while in 2013 this number dropped to 33%. So they are celebrating, basically, that 4,000 new students TOOK the AP. Of those 4,000 students, only 19% passed an AP.
The Times-Picayune included links to excel files where the number of test takers and test passers from each school and district are given. From these I learned that in the Recovery School District (RSD) — the crown jewel of the ‘reformers’ which is being franchised in places like Memphis, out of 405 students who took an AP, only 24, which is 5.9%, passed one. Now the RSD has about 40,000 students which means there should be approximately 3,000 12th graders, so these 24 students would represent eight tenths of one percent of the seniors.
Finally, I looked at the breakdown of the RSD by school. If the RSD is the crown jewel of the ‘reformers’ then Sci Academy is the crown jewel of the RSD. This is the ‘miracle school’ that supposedly gets students to advance three grades in one semester. I found that only 11% of the students who took an AP at that school earned a passing grade.
Notice that the best percentage was KIPP Renaissance who evidently had 9 students passing out of 47 who took a test for a passing percentage of 19.1%.
Making kids take AP tests who are not ready for them is not a good thing to do. There are plenty of other ways to give kids “access to rigor.” The 6% passing rate in the RSD, I suppose, is useful information, though, for people who are looking for the truth behind the New Orleans Miracle so, in that sense, I’m glad to have this information.
They can only twist numbers so much until they eventually break. They will have to admit, one day, that their destructive reforms don’t have the impact on achievement that they expected.