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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Shameful: How Duval County used A.P. tests to end teacher's careers and shortchange students and continues to do so.

What happened to accelerated courses of study in Duval County?

There is a reason you don’t make policy based on anecdotal evidence. It’s so if that evidence proves false you haven’t made a mess of everything. Drug companies are required to go through many trials to prove their product is both safe and does what is advertised. Unfortunately education policies don’t work that way, they get enacted when the powers-that-be, who are rarely educators, read a pamphlet during a flight delay, or their sister’s neighbor’s cousin says “hey try this.” Nowhere is this more evident than in the use of advanced placement classes here in Duval County and Florida.

For years people went around saying there was evidence that said just exposing regular or poorer performing students to advanced classes led to a life time of enrichment. The problem is according to a recent study by the College Board just exposing them to the classes has not led to a lifetime of enrichment. On the contrary it has held many back from acquiring the skills they needed. Teachers actually teaching the classes have known this for years. You see they were forced to either dumb down the classes, handicapping the students who were their legitimately or to pass the kids who weren’t despite the fact that hadn’t come anywhere close to mastering the material.

It is even more insidious than that in Duval county because many of the students were put in classes that were over their head not to expose them to higher material but so the county could get bonus points on school grades which would mask the problems the county has. For years Ed Pratt Dannals and the school board would say look at us we are a B district, when the truth was they were using accounting tricks to hide the district’s problems. And all it cost us was millions of dollars and the futures of some of our children.   

Prerequisites were in place In Duval County Prior to 2000. Students were required to meet defined levels of performance in courses prior to registering in Advanced Courses in middle school, Honors and Advanced Placement Courses in high school. These practices ensured the readiness of the student to handle the rigors of this level of study. As a result, accelerated courses could move at the pace required to ensure students would cover the necessary material with the depth and breadth essential to meet the academic integrity of the respected course. Most, if not all, prestigious private schools still follow this model as well as most school districts in the nation. The logic is simple: past performance is an indicator of future success. The College Board recognizes this and publishes the AP Expectancy Tables. This illustrates the percent of students who pass Advanced Placement Exams as a correlation of their PSAT math and verbal scores. Parents who felt adamant that their child should be enrolled in these courses against the recommendation of the educators could over-ride this policy. Students also had to be recommended to sit for the administration of the exam. This policy ensured the prudent expenditure of public funds ($80 per exam) consistent with probability of the student receiving a passing score of 3 or better based on course performance.

Around 2000, with former Superintendent Dr. Joseph Wise and with former Governor Jeb Bush’s A+ school grading scheme, common sense went out the window while school statistics were manipulated to present the facade of high performance. This mirrors the corporate business model in which many outside the educational profession seek public schools to emulate. With the A+ plan, the number of students enrolled in AP courses bolstered the school grade provided they merely sat for the exam. Dr Joseph Wise’s decision to add many students who were ill prepared to enroll in these courses were at best an attempt to artificially inflate school grades, or at worse, self-serving since he had a working relationship with College Board and sought to join them in their employment in the future.

The District’s adopted an unrealistic policy that every child will receive a college ready diploma was soon copied by the state as a failed attempt at social engineering. Students with FCAT reading scores of 1 were enrolled in AP English Literature courses and, against the recommendations of the College Board, the average 14 year old 9th grade students were enrolled in AP courses. Teachers were under pressure to pass the students along through Grade Recovery and through the deflation of course content. Algebra II had the same content as the Algebra I of a decade ago. Honors Classes had less rigor that the Standard Classes of the same time span. Add to this the Florida Virtual School in which some students have admittedly paid people to sit for the exams and cheated by pulling up two screens on two computers at home and looked up the answer on one while being tested on another. The structure of delivery of accelerated course content moved from one of intellect, emotional maturity and personal responsibility to how can I trick the students into learning a minimum level of content while not requiring the students to complete homework assignments, taking notes, or studying. Research papers once comprised research cited in APA or MLA styles were reduced to posters and dioramas.

With this, students had little ownership in their performance and received weighted grade which were not reflected in the body of knowledge for which they were responsible.  Consequently, it is common practice for students to simply not show up for AP exams and faces no consequences, or sleep through the exams since it has no bearing on their graduation or GPA.  As a result educators which teach these classes are evaluated on the number of students who pass these exams are powerless to control the fate of their careers.  Students have used this to blackmail teachers by telling them they will intentionally fail exams to have the teacher receive a poor evaluation and possible have them fired if they do not receive a good grade in the course. It is very hard to fail in Duval County; you really have to work at it.

Failed curricula such as Math Investigations, CPM Math, Chemistry in the Community, Active Chemistry, Active Physics and Readers and Writers workshops were and are still pervasive. We will suffer the effects of these choices for years to come. Teachers asked to select curriculum and instructional material were overrode by administrators who never taught these courses, taught decades ago, or who don’t even hold credentials in these disciplines. Recent evidence of this is apparent in the selection of the Active Chemistry. An overwhelming number of chemistry instructors rejected this curriculum only to be overridden by Ms. Leroy, who is no longer working in this district. Prior to this CPM (College Preparatory Math) and Math Investigations were instituted against the recommendations of an overwhelming majority of math teachers. Until recently, Math teacher were forced to use this curriculum until parental outrage ended these practices

Now students are not counseled out from courses in which they do not perform well. In turn, the educator is asked to reduce expectations to ensure success. These policies affect the retention of educators who are forced to accept students who are ill prepared to undertake or accept the rigors these classes. Now the educators who teach these courses will pay for these decisions as their continued employment depends on the performance of students on district, state, Advanced Placement, and national common core examinations, which are due to be implemented. The tax payers of Florida will pay to have students enrolled in AP Classes with little probability of achieving a passing score and who will sleep through the AP exam at a cost of $80 per test, Duval County routinely spends over a million dollars on failed tests. I have heard administers say, “The grade a student receives in your AP class should have no bearing on what the student receives on the AP exam.” I have seen many gifted and talented educators leave the profession rather than run down this rabbit hole.

The state and district cannot continue to put students and teachers in positions where success is unlikely and then scratch their head wondering why they failed.  The state and the district should not be allowed to use accounting tricks to make it appear that we are doing better than we are and the state and district should just do better, Florida deserves better.  


  1. I once monitored AP geography exams. Everyone xmas treed the multiple and did not bother with answering the questions that required a written answer. This was during the Wise time. I believe part of a bonus for him was increasing AP classes no one had to pass from him to receive the bonus.

    1. Wise was the smartest Super we ever had. He took one long look at what was going on and engineered himself an immediate bailout. With a bonus. Genius.

  2. Look up the Times Union Article "The all pass the class but fail the test" I will never teach AP again. If I am ever forced to teach it again the student's grade will be a predictor of the AP score.

  3. Great blog. Thanks for telling it like it is.