The expansion of AP in D.C. is part of a nationwide trend, fueled by the idea that all students benefit from taking the ostensibly rigorous, college-level classes regardless of how well prepared they are.
The Post’s Jay Mathews, a leading proponent of the AP-for-all theory, publishes an annual ranking of U.S. high schools based largely on how many AP tests they administer per graduating student. Although Mathews’s methodology and assumptions have drawn criticism, his ranking has spurred much of the AP growth.
Nationally, AP participation rates have more than doubled in the past decade, with 2.5 million students taking at least one AP exam in 2015. But as the number of AP test-takers has expanded to include many more low-income and minority students, the failure rate has grown even more rapidly.
AP exams are graded on a scale of 1 to 5, and the College Board, which administers the exam, considers 3 to be a passing score, enabling a student to possibly earn college credit. Many universities give credit only for scores of 4 or 5.
Nationwide, about 60 percent of all test takers scored a 3 or better on at least one exam. But the pass rate for African American students was just half the rate for white students.
In DCPS, the proportion of exams on which a student earned a 3 or above has gone up from 27 percent in 2010 to 33 percent in 2015. But those figures, provided by DCPS, don’t reveal much about how students at each school are performing. Students at some schools may be taking several AP exams, doing well on all of them.
A DCPS spokesperson, Michelle Lerner, declined to release school-by-school pass rates, saying that some AP classes are small enough that individual students could be identified. But a retired DCPS teacher, Erich Martel, has calculated school-level scores on the basis of information he received from an internal DCPS source. The data lists scores for all AP tests taken at each DCPS high school in 2012 and 2013.
Natalie Wexler blogs at DC Eduphile and Greater Greater Washington and is a member of the board of the D.C. Scholars Public Charter School. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.