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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Chris Guerrieri makes the Folio's backpage again

Over the last 5 years I have been featured on the Folio's back page about 30 times talking about education. This is the latest which is in the current Folio on newstands today. -cpg

How Advanced Placement destroyed Duval County public schools and wasted a million dollars a year too.

Advanced Placement, the name conjures images of our most advanced students taking college level classes and getting college credit for them if they score high enough on an end of the course exam. They give a fair amount of college bound kids a leg up after they graduate, it’s just to bad they wrecked Duval County’s schools in the process.

When our former superintendent came in he was a big believer in Advanced Placement classes, so big he went to work for them after his brief term here in Jacksonville came to an end. It was under Joey Wise that we switched from a block schedule where kids would take four ninety-minute classes at a time to an a/b block schedule where kids took eight.

That’s right friends, students here in Duval County are required to take what would be a double course load in college, where four classes is considered full time. In fact at most colleges you would have to get special permission to take more than six but here it is the norm and the reason we changed our schedule was just to benefit the handful of students taking Advanced Placement classes.

Superintendent Wise reasoned that if kids took an Advanced Placement (A.P.) class during the first semester then the material wouldn’t be as fresh in their minds when they took the test at the end of the year (for some inexplicable reason A.P. tests are given at the end of the school year). Since we couldn’t have that, the schedule was changed to accommodate them, so they would still be in their A.P. classes when test-taking time rolled around. These students are also the group best suited to take eight classes at a time which means where the schedule change was possibly beneficial to a few students it had to be detrimental to more than a few as well.

Superintendent Wise did not last but that didn’t mean the districts fascination with A.P. tests left with him. On the contrary it exploded but this time for a more insidious reason.

When the state does school and district grades they look at the amount of kids taking A.P. classes and award bonus points. Now it doesn’t matter if the kids have passed the classes or tests or not, just that they have their butts in the seats. The superintendent and his staff must have realized this because there was an explosion of students placed in advanced placement classes.

Suddenly kids who could barely (or on occasion couldn’t) do work at grade level were thrust into Advanced Placement classes. There was a time when students had to have permission to be in these advanced classes but not any longer, now that students taking them offered the district the bonus points which we desperately needed, kids woefully unprepared were finding themselves in them. The amount of kids taking the classes expanded exponentially and as you can imagine the amount of kids failing Advanced Placement tests expanded exponentially as well.

One of the reasons we do so poorly is we require every student in an A.P. class to take the test whether they want to or feel ready or not or we bill them eighty-five dollars for it. I wonder how many of those 16,180 failed tests were just Christmas treed because the student knew they had no hope of passing it.

The worse thing however is this gave the district cover from some of our other problems. The superintendent and the school board like to say we are a B district but the truth is when compared to other districts throughout the state, even districts that are bigger and poorer than ours we are doing very poorly. Our graduation rate is one of the worse in the state and so are our FCAT scores. It’s unfathomable to think Duval would be a B district unless we were getting bonus points from somewhere and that’s where the explosion of kids taking A.P. classes came in. You see we don’t need kids to do well on the A.P. tests, we just needed kids to take the A.P. classes and they are now doing so in droves. If the district had to say it was a C over the last few years, I have to believe the public would have clamored for change sooner but instead a math teacher making over a quater milion dollars a year, who somehow reached the top of the heap hoodwinked the city.

What exactly does a B mean? Well for Duval it means we are the 50th ranked district out of 67. It’s a good thing Florida doesn’t grade on a curve right? It means we have eight of the bottom 25 high schools in the state including number 404 out of 404 and our middle schools are in a similar predicament. It means less than two thirds of our kids graduate on time (just over half of our African American kids do) and many of those needed social promotions and grade recovery to do so. Less than half our kids arrive to high school reading on grade level and if we didn’t force so many level ones and twos into Advanced Placement classes, where they have no business being, then we would be in real trouble. By the way our kids only pass one in four A.P. tests. That is what earns a B grade in Florida.

So in Duval only one in four A.P. tests taken by our students last year received a grade of three, which is passing, or higher. That means seventy-five percent of the tests were failed and failed at the cost of eighty-five dollars a pop. Last year the district spent 1,375,300 dollars on Duval’s failed tests. Lets just round that down to a million because some kids who have a legitimate shot of taking the tests do take them and fail but the problem is so many students here in Duval County are taking the tests and they really have no business doing so. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say we waste about a million dollars a year paying for tests that kids have no business taking. That’s fifteen art teachers or a vocational electrician program that our county just throws out the window every year.

Do other districts seem to have this problem? Not even close.

Of the six districts that had over ten thousand A.P. tests given we had the greatest percentage of kids taking the tests and we had the worse results. The first number below is the percentage of 9-12th graders taking an A.P. test, and the second number is the pass rate. I included the surrounding counties on the list as well.

These are the five other counties and Duval that had over 10,000 A.P. tests taken.

Palm Beach, 34.7-50.6
Orange, 33.2-42.8
Hillsborough, 43-37.6
Dade, 29.6-41.1
Broward, 31.1-48.4
Duval, 50.4-25

Collectively their pass rate is 43%, some 18 percentage points higher than ours.

Other local counties

St. Johns, 39.2-55
Clay, 23.6-46.9
Nassau, 30.4- 40.9

As you can see of the big counties only about a third of their students take A.P. tests but here in Duval County it is over 50%. Why? Because sadly we need the bonus points. And just so you know Hillsborough was the only other county that had over forty percent of it’s kids taking A.P. tests and no county had over fifty percent like we do.

So not only did the district change our whole schedule to benefit just a few kids hurting many in the process, not only is the district arguably wasting about a million dollars a year, not only is the district forcing kids to take classes they shouldn’t but worse of all the district used Advanced Placement tests to hide our other weakness and pull the wool over the communities eyes. Friends, in Duval County it hasn’t been about what’s best for the kids for years it’s been about the board and super massaging numbers to keep their jobs.

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