AP Courses A Test for All
Some Would Judge Teachers by Scores
By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 8, 2004; Page VA12
David Keener, who teaches Advanced Placement biology at T.C. Williams High School, can frighten his students just by reaching for his desk drawer -- that being the first indication they are going to get one of his famous pop quizzes.
Wakefield High School AP psychology teacher Tonya Guiffre helps her students learn the subject's complex vocabulary by having them design crossword puzzles using the terms.
Doug Grove, who teaches AP psychology at Washington-Lee High School, reminds his students that the best way to keep AP test graders from overlooking the points students are trying to make on the exam is to underline each one.
Keener, Guiffre and Grove are different teachers at different schools, but they have three things in common. First, they all teach AP classes -- college-level courses with independently written and graded exams; by taking them, students can earn college credit. Second, they are among the most successful teachers at their schools in preparing students for the three-hour AP exams. Third, they illustrate the emerging possibility of using AP results -- which are public records in Alexandria and Arlington -- to assess the quality of individual teachers in local schools.
Keener, who has been teaching AP biology at Alexandria's T.C. Williams since 1990, had all but one of his students receive passing scores on the 2003 exam, and that was a bit below his usual performance. It was the first time in 24 years that he did not have every single student pass the test.
Slightly more than 81 percent of Guiffre's (pronounced Joo-FRAY) students passed the AP psychology test in 2003; nearly 81 percent of Grove's passed the same test at Washington-Lee. Those were the highest AP passing rates at their schools except for AP Spanish, where 92.2 percent passed at Wakefield and 100 percent passed at Washington-Lee.
AP and its smaller counterpart, International Baccalaureate, give students college-level courses and tests in high school to prepare them for the long reading lists and lengthy exams they will encounter in college. For years, AP and IB were small programs that involved only a few A students. But the programs have grown tremendously in recent years, particularly in the Washington area. At the five public high schools in Alexandria and Arlington, most students take at least one college-level course.
Nationally, some parents have begun to ask to see individual class results to determine which educators are doing a good job teaching the courses and which aren't. Arlington and Alexandria school officials say they will give the data to those who ask for it, although Kathleen Wills, the director of planning and evaluation for Arlington schools, said she will not release the results of AP or IB courses that have fewer than three students because it would violate student privacy by making it possible to discern individual scores.
Nearly all other Washington area school systems except for Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's counties say they will release the data if asked, with some restrictions for small classes. A Manassas city school official said the district probably would not release the data.
AP and IB exams are the only standardized tests whose results are publicly available on a class-by-class basis in the Washington area. Parents are told how their children performed on state tests, such as the Virginia Standards of Learning exams, but states generally do not report those scores on a teacher-by-teacher basis.
IB exams are graded on a seven-point scale, with scores of 4 and higher earning credit at many colleges. AP exams are graded on a five-point scale, with a 5 being the equivalent of a college A, a 4 the equivalent of a B, 3 a C, 2 a D and 1 an F. IB scores of 4 and above and AP scores of 3 and above are generally considered passing scores.
AP and IB results can be used to assess an individual teacher's work only if that teacher is the only one in the school teaching that subject. For instance, the AP data released by Arlington County shows that 26 Washington-Lee students took the AP psychology exam in May 2003, and all of them were Grove's students. Seven students earned 5s, seven got 4s, seven got 3s, three scored 2s and two students scored a grade of 1.
At Wakefield, 11 students took the AP psychology exam, all of them in Guiffre's class. Three students earned 5s, four got 4s, two had 3s and two earned a grade of 1.
The T.C. Williams AP grade report for May 2003 shows 41 students took AP biology, all of them in Keener's classes. Twenty-three students earned 5s, eight scored 4s, nine had 3s and one scored a grade of 2.
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