Sunday, February 25, 2018

AP Advocacy - 5 Steps to a 5 --- Guest Blogger Cynthia Simonson, MCCPTA VP Educational Issues

IT’S HERE!  IT’S HERE!  Starting in mid-December, I start checking the MCPS Office of Shared Accountability daily… waiting and waiting for the annual report that gives us the results from last year’s Advanced Placement and IB tests.   This year, the report dropped in late January! 

I know not everyone geeks out on this particular report, but I LOVE IT; I simply love it!!  The first part of this report outlines how MCPS performed and, to our credit, year after year, we outperform the state of Maryland and the nation. That is certainly worth celebrating, for sure, but, I think like a swimmer -- “how did we do against ourselves?”  If you’ve ever lived with a competitive swimmer, you know about best times.  This “sport” isn’t so different.  I look at different things in the appendices (outlined below), I compare this year’s scores to how students did last year, and I look at my specific school stats to see if we are performing where I would expect in relation to the rest of the county.

What this report does, more than anything else, is it gives parents material to frame questions and helps identify areas of advocacy as we work toward being “better” than we were before.  As a school system, we put a lot of emphasis on AP courses as being a strong indicator of college readiness.  I think AP courses are an AWESOME entry point for students to experience the rigor of college courses.  But, it is important as we expand the pool of students accessing these courses, we expand the supports also so when a student commits a year to study a college level subject, they have every opportunity (and expectation) of passing the exam and possibly getting the college credit. 

It is my belief, students shouldn’t be shocked by the exam scores they receive in July.  If they have been taking a rigorous college level course all year, they should have plenty of indicators from their formatives how they will perform on the exam.  Sometimes things happen… but that should be the exception, not the rule!  

Below is an outline of the content within the report. Data can be powerful – use it well! 

·       Appendix A:  Starting on page 8 of the document, shows me how many AP courses (and IB courses) my high school offers in comparison to all the other county high schools.  The range of AP classes offered in 2016-17 goes from 9-33 (which mind you, isn’t as dramatic a range if low AP courses correlates with IB offerings).  But, maybe that would be something for a cluster coordinator to ask about.  Scrolling through Appendix A, I can see the last three years of participation for my high school by demographics.  Are we attracting more students?  Less students? What do I see in the trending of specific populations?  What does this tell me (and what questions do I have) about the accessibility of our courses to all students?  Do the numbers at my high school look similar to my benchmarking schools?  If not, why not?  Is there something we can learn from them?  Is there something they can learn from us? 

·       Appendix B:  This is where access and success intersect!   Page 22 shows not only who took the test, but who passed it (with a 3 or higher).  And again, I can scroll to my high school and see by demographics who is passing and not passing the APs.  And, I can look at my school in comparison… and I think about conversations I’ve overheard about programs that are in place in other parts of the county and ask questions at the next high school PTSA “has our school ever considered having…?”   AND, page 30 is a special treat because this gets to the detail of high school’s participation and whether the numbers represent 1000 kids taking 1 exam each or 200 kids taking 5 exams each.  

·       Appendix C:  THIS IS MY CANDY… this is where it becomes very personal because from pages 33-52, you can see each course and how the students performed by high school in the 20 most popular courses.  I look at the mean for the county for each class and how did my school perform against that mean?  I look to see what courses we didn’t offer and make note to ask more about that.  And, again, I look at my benchmarking schools – how are my “training partners” doing?  And, I really focus on schools that are posting “rock star-like numbers” and sometimes I reach out to those clusters and ask “what is happening over there” to gain more insight.  For the past year, I’ve been reaching out to my Principal on any courses I have questions about and I have been talking to other parents – does this seem right to you?  If there are courses that have been underperforming against the mean year after year – which I can see by looking back at this SAME report that is published each year here --   And, I ask parents in my community about their students’ experience in certain classes and go back to the Principal to ask what explains this?  Is it a preparation issue? Do we need to create more professional development opportunities?  Something else I have dared to ask “can I see the correlation data?”  I haven’t seen it yet, but, when many parents have similar stories of their children getting As in the course but, 2s on the exams, I have questions… To my way of thinking, if a big group of students are getting As in the class, I’m expecting – if the course is covering all the material with rigor -- most of those students will post 4s or 5s on the exam.  With our new data system being launched, that can help target support to teachers and students – giving every child their best chance at success.  (Watch for that in coming years!)    

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