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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

California: AP, RIP

By Nicholas Stix

Some visionary California educators have found the policy equivalent of Steve Sailer’s proverbial ballpeen hammer, in order to bring about educational equality: Block smart Asian kids’ access to Advanced Placement courses, while admitting Hispanic (and black) dunces!

Jacinth Cisneros, the principal of Alhambra’s Mark Keppel High School (and some of her colleagues), has replaced merit selection for AP classes with a “computer-based lottery,” which Los Angeles Times alleged reporter, Teresa Watanabe, also referred to as “computerized selection.”

My take is that the new selection process will ensure that every unqualified Hispanic kid has a shot at AP classes, and that qualified Asian kids don’t. A real lottery would actually be more fair.

All of the kids that Watanabe interviewed who were frozen out indeed had Asian names: Wong, Liu, Hum.

To anyone who really believes that the selection process is race-blind, I have a great deal for you, on a slightly used bridge. As the father of an eighth-grader attending an allegedly highly selective middle school, I am intimately familiar with some of the methods the public schools use to rig admissions to once-selective programs.)

Watanabe writes,
Some critics worry that the open-access movement is pushing too many unprepared students into AP classes, as indicated by higher exam failure rates over the last decade and a persistent achievement gap among races. They also fear that open enrollment policies are prompting teachers to weaken courses and inflate grades.
But it’s not an “open-access movement” at all, it’s a “closed access movement” for smart Asian and white kids. It’s only “open” to Hispanic and black dunces.

I have no doubt that the classes are being watered down, and grades are being inflated. I also expect to hear soon of rampant test fraud.

Every time Watanabe says “low-income students,” she means black and Hispanic students of every income level. Poor white kids consistently whip well-to do blacks. Income has nothing to do with it. “Unprepared students” is another racial code phrase, and is a synonym for “black and Hispanic students of every income level.”

At the same time, access to AP courses remains uneven. Low-income students are twice as likely as others to attend schools without a full array of AP courses, according to a June study by the Education Trust and Equal Opportunity Schools. Such disparities prompted a 2011 California law that encourages schools to offer AP courses in at least five subjects.
Speaking of which, red flag! Since 2003, Long Beach Unified has increased the percentage of its sophomores, juniors and seniors taking the AP spring exams by over 100 percent, and the percentage of Hispanic students by over 40 percent, and yet the pass rate (54 percent) has not gone down at all. Those numbers violate everything we know about demographics and education. Look for a test fraud scandal at that school.
Long Beach Unified opened its AP classes a decade ago; the district has boosted the percentage of students taking the spring exams to 21% of its sophomores, juniors and seniors this year, from 10% in 2003. Latinos have shown the greatest growth, increasing to 41% of test-takers from 29% during that time period. The exam pass rate has remained steady at 54%.
But not to worry, because these public schools have miracle teachers, and a good teacher can turn any dunce into Albert Einstein! (It was as I suspected, all along: I would have become a rocket scientist, if only I’d had the proper, magical teachers!)

Teachers are one reason behind the school's success, said Lynda McGee, the school's college counselor and AP coordinator. In Daniel Jocz's AP U.S. history class, for instance, about 90% of students pass the exam compared with the national rate of about 54%.

During a recent visit, Jocz enlivened an otherwise dry lesson on Henry Clay's "American System" national economic plan with music clips from Bruce Springsteen and Queen, seemingly odd juxtapositions with TV characters Gumby and Pokey and amusing factoids about the Erie Canal. He flagged content likely to appear on the AP exam, such as the Tariff of 1816, and directed students to work in groups on an AP-type essay question about the contributions of Thomas Jefferson.

Playing kids bad music increases their AP test scores! Who’d’a thunk it?! didn’t I ever think of that! And have them do group work! Will they take the test as a group, too?

This racist power play will push Asian parents into removing their kids from the regular public schools, and putting them into charter schools, or leaving the public system altogether.

Watanabe wrotes that the smart, screwed kids’ parents “plied administrators with complaints, circulated a petition and launched a Facebook group to swap classes.” What they need to do is sue their school districts for racial discrimination.

(After the article, I posted some of the readers’ comments. Very of the readers whose comments I read were fooled for one second by this scam.)

 

More schools opening Advanced Placement courses to all students
[Original headline: "As access to AP classes rises, so do headaches."]
Some students may not be adequately prepared for the rigorous classes and high achievers may be shut out. But supporters see equal access as an educational right.
By Teresa Watanabe
October 9, 2013, 4:51 p.m.
Los Angeles Times
Comments 282

Alex Wong, a junior at Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra, is working hard for admission to an elite college. His resume boasts nearly straight A's in rigorous classes, a summer program experience at Stanford University, an Eagle Scout project, club soccer, school choir.

But his steady progress hit an unexpected roadblock this year. Aiming to open access to college-level Advanced Placement courses, the school switched to a computer-based lottery to distribute spaces. Alex initially got shut out of all three courses he requested.

The new system caused an uproar among [high-achieving Asian] families whose children failed to get into AP courses, which many consider critical to develop advanced skills, boost grade-point averages and allow students to earn college credit, saving tuition dollars. They plied administrators with complaints, circulated a petition and launched a Facebook group to swap classes.

"IM DESPERATE ILL GIVE YOU FREE FOOD," one student, Kirk Hum, posted on the 210-member AP Flea Market Facebook group.
Long considered an elite track for the most talented and ambitious students, AP classes are now seen as beneficial for any students willing to push themselves — and schools are increasingly viewing access to them as a basic educational right. But that has come with challenges and controversy.

Downtown Magnets High School in Los Angeles has nearly doubled participation in AP classes over the last five years — publicizing their pros and cons through an annual, two-week informational campaign for students and parents. Those who enroll are not necessarily top students — but the school reports benefits for them nonetheless.

Miracle Vitangcol, a Downtown Magnets junior with average grades and test scores, is failing her AP U.S. history class; she said she is overwhelmed by the rapid pace and volume of material she needs to memorize. But she said she intends to stick it out because the class is teaching her to manage her time, take good notes and develop perseverance.

"I'm struggling to adjust," she said. "But I keep telling myself, 'It's OK. You can do it. Just push yourself.' "

Some critics worry that the open-access movement is pushing too many unprepared students into AP classes, as indicated by higher exam failure rates over the last decade and a persistent achievement gap among races. They also fear that open enrollment policies are prompting teachers to weaken courses and inflate grades.

"While expanding access is generally a good thing, we need to make sure we're not watering down the experience for the high achievers," said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based educational policy organization.

But the College Board, which runs the AP program and is encouraging open access, said the effort has generally been successful. Even though national participation has doubled in the last decade to 2.1 million students last year, exam failure rates have increased only slightly, officials said. Passing scores have outpaced failing results by nearly 20% over the last decade.

At the same time, access to AP courses remains uneven. Low-income students are twice as likely as others to attend schools without a full array of AP courses, according to a June study by the Education Trust and Equal Opportunity Schools. Such disparities prompted a 2011 California law that encourages schools to offer AP courses in at least five subjects.

Downtown Magnets, whose students are overwhelmingly low-income, offers 15 different AP courses. And the school's 61% exam pass rate far outpaces L.A. Unified's average of 40%.

Teachers are one reason behind the school's success, said Lynda McGee, the school's college counselor and AP coordinator. In Daniel Jocz's AP U.S. history class, for instance, about 90% of students pass the exam compared with the national rate of about 54%.

During a recent visit, Jocz enlivened an otherwise dry lesson on Henry Clay's "American System" national economic plan with music clips from Bruce Springsteen and Queen, seemingly odd juxtapositions with TV characters Gumby and Pokey and amusing factoids about the Erie Canal. He flagged content likely to appear on the AP exam, such as the Tariff of 1816, and directed students to work in groups on an AP-type essay question about the contributions of Thomas Jefferson.

Jocz sees both pros and cons of open access. "The good thing is giving people the chance to challenge themselves ... but some kids are not ready, and are we setting them up for failure?" he said.

At Jordan High School in Watts [Los Angeles], Evan Dvorak confronted that question head-on last year when he allowed any student to take his AP physics class. But he found that those who had not acquired the necessary calculus skills could not handle the work; all 20 students failed the exam.

"As a teacher, you want to think you can reach every student and perform miracles to get them where they need to be," he said. "But it proved to be too much for everyone."

This year, Dvorak made sure that students knew how difficult the course was; only six have enrolled and are doing much better, he said.

Overall, L.A. Unified has increased AP participation to 17.7% of high school students this year from 12.5% in 2009, when it adopted a districtwide open-enrollment policy. The exam pass rate has stayed about the same, at 40%, although it varies from 62.4% for whites to 25.7% for African Americans.

The district has received more than $1 million in federal funds to support students and give teachers in 20 schools the AP training required by the College Board.

Long Beach Unified opened its AP classes a decade ago; the district has boosted the percentage of students taking the spring exams to 21% of its sophomores, juniors and seniors this year, from 10% in 2003. Latinos have shown the greatest growth, increasing to 41% of test-takers from 29% during that time period. The exam pass rate has remained steady at 54%.

"We're preparing more students for college and helping parents in the pocketbook when it comes time for college tuition," said Long Beach Unified spokesman Chris Eftychiou.

At Keppel, some parents whose children were shut out of AP classes say they support the goal of open access — but not the random selection for limited spaces.

"It's a delicate balancing act," said Shelly Tan, whose son, Douglas, failed to get into an AP biology class after doing the summer work during a family vacation. "Yes, you want to give all kids opportunity — but not at the expense of kids who can do the honors work."

Until last year, Keppel used grades and test scores to determine placement — factors also used by Downtown Magnets for over-enrolled classes. But Keppel Principal Jacinth Cisneros, who arrived last year, said she believed that process violated Alhambra Unified's equal-access policy, adopted in 2007. As a result, she launched the computerized selection this year.

"I believe every child has the opportunity to redirect their path at any point during their high school career," she said.
Cisneros said the school has since added another AP English class but could not offer more because it did not have enough trained teachers.

That has left many Keppel students stranded. Alex Wong eventually got into AP environmental science, a course he considers critical to his plans to apply for early admission to Stanford as an environmental engineering major. But he remains shut out of AP English and AP calculus and will have to try again next year.

Some students say they plan to study the AP course work with a tutor and take the exam anyway. Keppel junior Andre Liu has enrolled in an eight-month AP English course to prepare him for the May exam. The cost: $4,000.
teresa.watanabe@latimes.com
 


partenopeo at 5:46 AM October 10, 2013
Jacinth Cisneros, the principal of Keppel, must be from a village that is missing its idiot. For her to state that any students can turn their education around at any time they wish to - and should thus be granted access to AP classes - is ridiculous.

I teach 7th-grade Social Studies in south L.A., and in any given year I have several students who simply do no work. When I conference with them, they tell me in all seriousness that 7th-grade isn't important and they'll actually start doing their work in high school. When I tell them they won't have the skills to do so, they usually look at me like I just don't get their brilliance. These kids might well decide they "deserve" to be in AP classes, which will not only waste the time of their classmates and the teacher, but will also keep kids who have earned the right to be there out.

One necessary part of genuine educational reform would be to get the idiots out of the field. Ms. Cisneros should have to teach an AP class full of randomly selected kids at her own school for a year. I'm thinking she'd sing a different tune by the end of it.
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iwashungry at 7:46 AM October 10, 2013
Correct and funny, too. Everyone knows why there is such a huge gap in academic achievement--it's innate, general intelligence or IQ. There have been many, many studies that confirm this but it is so radioactively politically incorrect to discuss it that no one will risk her career to tell the truth. The bad part is that the children who do not have the intellectual ability to understand and perform well in AP classes are told that "if they only work hard" or "if they want it bad enough" they will be successful. This is not true and will never, ever be true. And so begins the feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt in our young people. High IQ, i.e., 115 or above is what is required to graduate from college and, I am guessing, what it takes to pass a genuine, not-watered-down AP class. I feel we need to stop lying to our youngsters and help them find a path to success and satisfaction that does not always involve academic success.
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d1game at 8:43 AM October 10, 2013
Sorry Michael but you are wrong with the whole talent thing. It has also been proven time and time again that talent gets you only so far while hard work will always prevail. The problem here is students do not develop early skills early and fail later. Some are just geniuses but that is rare. The talented ones need to develop that talent no matter what.
2-4


Feh_Ghost at 8:47 AM October 10, 2013
To michaelbarker4,
I agree that innate ability determines achievement in part, but that is not the whole picture. There is also the socio-economic environment from which the child comes. Most in the inner city would not be able to send their child to specialized tutoring which can cost upwards of $7000+ per year per subject. Food usually takes precedence.
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PennyCulliton at 5:22 PM October 12, 2013
High "IQ" [N.S.: Why the scare quotes?] alone is NOT enough. As a 30-year veteran teacher, I know that the willingness to wrok hard actually is a better predictor of success!
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ockham.logic at 7:01 AM October 10, 2013
Unfortunately, the most common outcome of pushy parents who demand that their C student gets into AP classes is a parent back in 6 weeks complaining there is too much homework.
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Lorenzo Mutia at 7:06 AM October 10, 2013
AP courses shouldn't shut out students who have demonstrated they can achieve but they should not have to limit the courses to just them. There needs to be more placement room to get those students on the fence and maybe get them into a different path, but not so much as to impede on the high achievers. AP courses shouldn't be depicted as elite classes for elite students and there should be a balance.
1-17


WilyCoyoteSuperGenius at 7:07 AM October 10, 2013
Our education bureaucracy at work! Another brilliant step by Educrats to impose their vision of Lowest Common Denominator education on America. Remember when you were a kid and had to struggle to keep up with the class? No longer! Now the class moves at the pace of the slowest student. AP classes were the exception, but I am sure that will soon change.

The quickest fix for education in America? To become an administrator you must have at least TEN years classroom experience.
To become a Superintendent you must have fifteen years classroom and ten years as a Principal. That would weed out the Educrats in a heartbeat and force them to get the position they are best fitted for - night shift manager at McDonalds, where they can supervise the results of their idiotic education ideas.
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casadeloro at 7:17 AM October 10, 2013
Then they will demand a relaxation of the grading standards to make if fair for the less educated. Same reason straight A students from Compton get blown out of UC Berkley in the first semester.

This must drive the teacher nuts because they are graded on how well the class does on the test.
and they will keep telling you they need more money
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rtamtc at 8:27 AM October 10, 2013
The students at Mark Keppel are mostly either Asian or Latino. Ms. Cisneros and anyone else in the San Gabriel Valley know that AP classes there would be almost entirely Asian if based strictly on ability. She basically wants more Latino kids to take the classes and to limit the number of Asian students.

An AP class is designed to be challenging. If you don't have the ability, you shouldn't take the class. Miracle Vitangcol is faililng her AP US History class but claims that it has taught her time management. That class is for learning about US History, not time management. She should take a time management class if she can't manage her schedule.

The best students should be in the AP classes, period.
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Joe Fonebone at 9:05 AM October 10, 2013
You forgot one thing - people who couldn’t spell “AP” if you spotted them the “A” are making these decisions.
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CornerJ at 8:35 AM October 10, 2013
Why stop with AP classes? Why not guarantee "access" to everyone, qualified or not, to be a heart surgeon? It's only fair.
Idiots.
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teachertwomey at 9:00 AM October 13, 2013
Interesting that one of the studies was by Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS). They are in the business of getting paid by schools to "find" students of poverty or color that aren't taking AP classes but could be good candidates for AP classes. they get 18K for this service. Seems like EOS has a horse in this race.

As an ELL and an AP teacher, I am concerned about the students in our school who could be in these classes but aren't "on the advanced track." It can be a closed system. I look for 9th grade students who show academic potential, even if they struggle in some areas, and encourage them to start taking advanced classes as a 10th grader. Then they have a chance to be prepared for AP during their 11th and 12th grade years.

AP College Board will be the first to tell you that they want all students to be AP students, although I guess they benefit from that policy as well.


Skip Nicholson at 9:45 PM October 13, 2013
Interesting that the headline in the print edition, on page 1, Thursday 10 October 2013, was changed in the online edition.
Original headline: "As access to AP classes rises, so do headaches"

Modified headline: "Mores schools opening Advanced Placmenet courses to all students"

Certainly a substantive change in both tone and meaning.

As to blocking out students from enrolling, why aren't these school adjusting their staffing to meet the students' needs?


cepdirector at 9:51 AM October 14, 2013
I am the director of a large concurrent enrollment program at a public university. We are affiliated with NACEP (www.nacep.org), a professional development and peer review accreditation organization with mixed two-year and four-year institution membership. Through this model, college courses are offered in the high schools taught by high school instructors who have been certified as adjuncts by the sponsoring institution. Many AP instructors apply for certification with our academic departments, but many of them cannot be certified because they do not have the background to teach the courses.
High schools are the gatekeepers for registration. It is true that failure does have some benefits when students are testing their college-ready skills, but only in a controlled and supportive environment. Prerequisites for academic learning really do matter. Better that high schools and their districts scaffold the skills backwards into their curriculum so that more high school students truly are prepared to take college courses through concurrent enrollment programs or college-level test prep programs like Advanced Placement. A headlong rush to equate opportunity to take these courses and tests with essentially no screening value placed on preparation is simply foolish and destructive.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Right, allowing these low achievers into the AP classes for which they are unprepared and probably totally unable to do the work will just drag everyone else down. A very bad idea that will end up hurting everyone. Those Latino students will have whatever self esteem they already possess just brought down in the process too. A lose-lose situation for all.

Chicago guy said...

Walking past one of the more highly regarded selective public high schools at quitting time I noticed the racial balance of the students there. It struck me as being a little too good to be legit; three of those, two of this, one of that. It was as if someone were casting for a commercial. No way this was a result of just who tested well. There's some race-based picking going on behind the scenes despite what might be said by anyone. As pointed out, economic categories are used in lieu of racial ones to disguise the fact of what is actually taking place. The bureaucracy uses terms such as "economic integration" so as to enable them to fly under the radar. There's probably a lot more going on behind the scenes that we don't know about. It's probably all corrupt from top to bottom.