High school AP tests: Is failure progress?

The good news in Texas is that more students than ever are taking Advanced Placement (AP) tests, indicating that more students in the state are taking more challenging AP courses as they go through their high school careers. The bad news: the “passing” rate for the AP tests being taken is falling.

So does all of this mean that the educational system is creating more opportunities for more students, or does it mean that the educational system is failing students because they can’t pass a challenging test?

The DMN’s lengthy behind-the-paywall story about the tests indicates that since 2008, three times as many students are taking AP tests, which are basically end-of-course assessments of what the students have learned. But even as three times as many students take the tests, only twice as many pass. So more than 17,000 students took an AP course and test last year, and 6,844 students passed the test with a score of 3 or better (on a scale of 1-5) — that compares with 3,056 students who passed AP tests in 2008. So you would think that having 3,800 additional tests passed would be cause for celebration, wouldn’t you?

The negative side of the story is that 3,648 tests were failed in 2008, while in 2011 the failure number increased to 10,553 — close to three times as many failures. Remember, though, that since many colleges offer a college credit for each test passed with a score of 3 or higher, the higher passing numbers mean that more than 3,800 college credits were earned by high school seniors, a number of whom were likely first-generation college students, perhaps giving these students a leg up on attending school — maybe having a few college credits to start with encouraged some of these kids to attend college (and saved their parents some money on classes), when they might not have done so otherwise.

So which way do you lean? More students taking more challenging courses is a positive, even if they fail at a higher rate than before? Or more students taking the test and failing it shows the continued futility of the educational system in Texas?


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