"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Jay Mathews Shilling for College Board AP Tests

Jay Mathews is really impressed by two new studies paid for by the College Board to show that College Board AP tests have positive effects on college success. So impressed, in fact, that he ran the story two days in a row, the first on Jan. 29th and the second in his "Class Struggles" on Jan. 30. And today he has another piece promoting the idea of students packing in as many as five AP courses (15 potential semester hours) before heading off to college.

Where did Mathews get the recommended limit of five APs? Well, from Trevor Packer of the College Board, of course, who said he gathered this empirical data by talking to "a number of admissions officers." I am sure it did not occur to Mathews to do any direct questioning himself or to ask anyone outside the College Board about this matter.

Even so, Mathews offers this promotional that clearly suggests that it is okay to pile up much more than five AP courses:
Although area students who take a dozen or more AP courses or tests might be overdoing it, Packer and College Board President Gaston Caperton said, the national problem is not that high school students take on too much college-level work but that they take on too little.
Shilling for the College Board is nothing new for Mathews. On November 28 in a piece he titled "Phantom AP Study Lurks," Mathews had this gem to cast doubt on a new study funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Department of Education that found that AP tests do little to improve college performance in the sciences:
This is the report on AP and college science courses by Philip M. Sadler and Robert H. Tai. The only publicly available account of what they found is a Harvard News Office press release with the headline: "High school AP courses do not predict college success in science." They argue that students who took AP science in high school do not do as well in college science courses as AP advocates say they should, and that taking AP science in high school may hurt science education by letting more students avoid college biology, chemistry and physics.
One may assume that Mathews was, once again, getting his information from what he was handed by the College Board, because the Sadler and Tai study had been carried by Harvard University Gazette, the Harvard Crimson, the NSTA, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The dates of these various publication range from February, 2006 to April, 2006. Amazing what a Google search can turn up, Jay! Here, by the way, is the story from the Times-Dispatch last February, ten months before Jay reported that there had been no report:
Saturday, February 18, 2006
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- There is little evidence that high school Advanced Placement courses significantly boost col- lege performance in the sciences, according to a study co-authored by a University of Virginia professor.

The survey, released yesterday, of 18,000 college students enrolled in introductory biology, chemistry and physics was conducted by University of Virginia professor Robert H. Tai and Philip M. Sadler of Harvard University.

"The AP classes are designed to be taught to a test," Tai said of the study's findings on the value of AP courses. "And what's on that test? You can't put everything on it.

"The AP test and class is not what they want it to be, which is teaching beyond what you would normally get in high school," Tai said. "Teaching to a test is not what it's all about. It's about learning."

Tai and Sadler found instead that success in college science courses was the result of high school classes that emphasized mathematical fluency, depth of learning and good laboratory teaching.

Jennifer Topiel, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit College Board that oversees the AP program, said Tai and Sadler's study was "very incompatible with other studies on AP.

"There has been a lot of research on AP classes," she said. "They show students who perform well on the AP exam do well in college."

Tai said the best indicator of college performance in biology, chemistry and physics was mathematical fluency, which he described as students who simply get good grades in math classes, take calculus in high school and score well on the SAT math test.

Tai, an assistant professor at U.Va.'s Curry School of Education, said the breadth of study needed in some science AP classes results in less retained learning. "You do better if you look at a subject matter in depth. A high school teacher should focus on a smaller number of fundamental topics."

Laboratory work, which is an integral part of AP high school science classes, should also be less about procedure and more focused on learning.

"It's important to make the lab experience stick, not just do it and move on. You need to have students thinking about what they did," Tai said.

The study found that college students in the sample who had taken AP science courses and scored at the top level on the AP exam averaged a college grade of only 90 after taking an introductory college course in the same discipline.

Students who scored just below the top level on the AP exam averaged 87 in freshman science courses in the same subject.

The College Board's Topiel said she had not yet seen the complete research but noted the study used only a very small sampling of AP students. Of the 18,000 college students surveyed, only 1,000 had taken AP classes and only 500 of those took the AP exam.

Tai said the random sample of students were selected for representation across the country. He said there are only a small number of students who had taken AP science courses compared with the net numbers who take college science courses.

Students take AP classes in order to increase their chances of success in attending academically select colleges. AP classes also allow students in many high schools to earn higher grade-point averages, with an A earning a 5.0 rather than a 4.0 for a conventional class.

"We're interested in understanding the choices a student had and which choices that student is making to challenge himself or herself," said Henry Broaddus, dean of admission at the College of William and Mary. "AP has been the conventional forum. But what you have is students taking AP who shouldn't be taking them, because they think college admission offices want to see it."

Lizzie Taylor, a fourth-year student at U.Va., took both AP physics and AP chemistry in high school.

"Yes, it's geared for the test," she said. "But with something like AP physics, you can't get it right unless you understand what you're doing. I think I learned the basics of physics."

Tai and Sadler's four-year study, funded by the National Science Foundation, will hopefully improve science education in high schools, Tai said.

"I don't want to encourage students to not take science classes," he said. "But once you take that AP science class, you shouldn't feel like you can skip that class in college. Take the course again in college is my recommendation."

Contact staff writer Carlos Santos at csantos@timesdispatch.com or (434) 295-9542.

1 comment:

  1. I'm always somewhat amused when anyone refers to the College Board as a nonprofit (as the article above does). Their president made almost $600K in 2005. The money they spent on salaries for officers of the organization alone was close to $7 million. But it's not about the money...