Tag Archives: College Board

Rank (adjective) – having a strong, unpleasant smell

For many years, the College Board would release average SAT scores with the states ranked by those averages. While the media would rush to make claims about those rankings as well as how average SAT scores changed from one year to the next, educational researchers and scholars often fought a losing battle trying to explain the flaws with such rankings and with making many of the claims about relative educational quality the media, politicians, and the public embraced.

More recently, however, even the College Board warns that no one “[should] rank or rate teachers, educational institutions, districts or states solely on the basis of aggregate scores derived from tests that are intended primarily as a measure of individual students.” [1]

Yet, many continue to rank and draw rash conclusions despite that warning because in the U.S. rankings of all kinds are extremely popular—from our sports to our schools and then almost everything else.

The U.S. obsession with ranking seems as much a love/hate relationship as anything; notably how we both seek always a better way to rank sports teams (consider the new playoff format for college football) and constantly argue and complain about those rankings.

What we tend to fail to do is question the act of ranking itself or acknowledge what it is that rankings do reveal—the latter being that any ranking reveals more about who is doing the ranking and why than what the ranking claims to accomplish.

Researcher Gerald Bracey has warned about ranking:

In any ranking, while someone gets to rank first, someone must rank last….In order to properly judge a rank, you need to know something about the context in which it occurs. (p. 59)

A key point here is that ranking imposes a judgment of relative quality on people and situations even though such judgments may be either irrelevant or terribly misleading. To explain this, Bracey refers to Olympic athletic events (placing fourth in an Olympic event is losing, although that athlete may be fourth best in the world at the sport), but with my methods students, while addressing assessment, I discuss identifying the top runners out of a group of students.

Unlike administering selected-response testing, identifying the best (and worst) runners can be accomplished under ideally authentic conditions—running a race. But to return to Bracey’s point about “context,” even though determining the best and worst runners can be authentic doesn’t mean that the process is without bias that impacts directly the resulting rankings.

If we take 30 runners, and ask them to run the 40-yard dash we are likely to get a much different ranking than if we ask them to run a marathon. In other words, who decides and what conditions create the metrics used for ranking render all attempts at ranking deeply biased and relative to a certain setting, and in many ways less useful than they appear.

By changing the parameters of determining “best runner,” we change who ranks where, and we must also acknowledge that a runner who places first in one class (and labeled “best”) may place last if moved to another class.

Concurrent with the newly formed college football national championship playoffs (resulting from decades of using a variety of systems to rank and determine only two teams to play for that championship each year—a deeply unsatisfying process), Education Week released its annual Quality Counts ranking of state educational quality and a edu-scholar public influence ranking first offered in 2010.

At the risk of sounding petty [2], I want to note that although I do not appear on the edu-scholar ranking and since the metrics for that ranking are made public, I would easily rank in the second 100 due to my Klout score, google Scholar metric, book publications, and frequent publishing and citing in international, national, state, and local media.

While I am not lobbying here, my own case highlights that it is likely dozens of other scholars have the same situation, and that despite the intent behind the rankings (to recognize often ignored within the academy public work by academics), the act of reducing people or work to metrics and then ranking is often counter-productive to the intended goals.

Should we increase the value placed on public work by academics and scholars? Yes. But labeling and ranking public work by scholars does more harm than good.

Should we shine a bright light on educational quality of schools and states in order to improve that quality? Yes. But labeling and ranking schools and states does more harm than good.

Just as we need to set aside accountability, standards, and high-stakes testing as our only approach to education reform, we need to stop our incessant race to rank in all educational contexts.

Rankings (labeling in order to sort), I contend, are not only poor ways to accomplish those goals, but the act of ranking itself is likely harmful to those goals—much in the same way SAT data have been misinterpreted for years, not because of the data but because of the urge to use that data to rank.

The urge to rank NCAA college basketball teams and then funnel all that into March Madness may in fact be a vibrant and mostly harmless way to do sport and entertainment.

But as Gerald Bracey (as an active researcher and public scholar) warned over and over, ranking is mostly a harmful and flawed exercise in the world of education. And since much of education in the U.S. is publicly funded and necessarily a part of the political process, many times rankings are more about political agendas than genuinely seeking to recognize accomplishments or prompt reform.

Ranking, as I noted about grades in education, are almost always accomplishing more harm than good, and thus, ranking is the worst possible process to advocate for or achieve laudable goals, especially in the context of education and scholarship.

[1] Gerald Bracey often stressed that we must never use an assessment or data set for purposes other than the ones for which they were designed.

[2] To clarify and for full disclosure, I do not need the edu-scholar ranking since I am an associate professor with tenure currently applying for full professor at my university. My university recognition and status are unlikely to be impacted by the ranking, although many of us on the faculty are currently calling for greater acknowledgment of public work by professors. My reason for using myself as an example is because I have the metrics and because a large number of junior faculty not as secure as I am are the ones likely being mis-served by rankings.

What’s Really Wrong with Advanced Placement Courses and College Board?

“Fraudulent schemes come in all shapes and sizes,” asserts John Tierney, adding, ” To work, they typically wear a patina of respectability. That’s the case with Advanced Placement [A.P.] courses, one of the great frauds currently perpetrated on American high-school students.”

Tierney calling the A.P. program from the College Board a scam may seem at first to be at best hyperbole and at worst, baseless screed.

But I find Tierney’s arguments are important as one more door opening into what is wrong with the College Board broadly, as well as what is wrong with A.P. more specifically.

Let me offer some context for my assertions to follow.

First, I am no fan of the College Board’s SAT, having addressed the class-, race-, and gender-based flaws with the SAT for at least two decades now—along with confronting the more recent flaws with the 2005 addition of writing on the SAT, the David Coleman planned reboot, and the proposed relationship with the Khan Academy.

However, from 1984 until 2002, while teaching high school English in a rural South Carolina public school, I always taught either advanced feeder courses, A.P. Literature courses, or both.

My experience with A.P. in a small impoverished high school that often ranked first in the state for highest percentage of students enrolled in A.P. courses was not typical because our district policy was to push as many students up into the advanced track as possible (occasionally with those students and their parents kicking and screaming). As well, my A.P. students hovered around scoring 3 or above at about only a 50% rate—whereas at nearby high schools, A.P. was a strictly gated program and those teachers were expected to have 3 or above rates at 100% [1].

The commitment of my district also included that my classes were very small and I had nearly complete autonomy for the content of the courses and how I taught the courses.

As a result of the unusual context of my A.P. experience as a public school teacher, my background is mostly positive in terms of how well we prepared students for college within our unique implementation of the A.P. program (notably disregarding—or at least greatly expanding—the College Board’s guidelines for gatekeeping that existed in those years).

Like the SAT, the College Board’s A.P. program experienced changes in who took the exams throughout the 1980s and 1990s, during my public teaching career. Since the early 2000s, A.P. programs have increasingly lost value at the university level (as Tierney points out and Schneider details, and as I have witnessed, colleges are often likely to give less or different credit than parents and students expect, and for much higher scores).

The A.P. program has also received criticism (again like the SAT) for inherent inequity problems, mostly about the lack of diversity in who has access to the courses or the score gaps among race and class groups.

But, this still leaves us with an important question regarding Tierney’s provocative claim: Are A.P. courses a scam?

My short answer is that we must come to terms with this: The A.P. program (as well as the SAT and ACT college-entrance exams, Common Core, and all test-based practices and policies in education) is a deeply flawed distraction, as Jack Schneider concludes:

Without a doubt, programs like AP have their place. And in many schools AP remains a valuable addition to the curriculum. But when we pretend that all our schools need is the right reform, we erode our collective will to do the harder work required of us. We distract ourselves from our greater purposes. (see HERE and HERE for additional criticism of A.P. by Schneider)

While not unique to the program, A.P. ultimately fails the broader promise of universal public education in the following ways:

  • The A.P. program is grounded in gatekeeping (historically hard gatekeeping metrics as well as lingering soft gatekeeping dynamics) and tracking [2], both of which are counter to goals of equity in public schooling. As a result, A.P. scores share with SAT (and ACT) scores the power to perpetuate privilege and establish inequitable schools-within-schools.
  • The A.P. program is one example of the popular and political fetish for “top students”—a fabricated crisis that speaks to and perpetuates privilege [3].
  • A.P. tests further reinforce the reduction of learning and merit to single test scores generated from one testing session. As well, the importance of the A.P. score as a potential ticket to earning college credit (and the claim that this process can save students and their parents money) can and often reduces A.P. courses to teaching-to-the-tests.
  • Through the aura of being an “elite” program and by their selective nature, A.P. courses erode efforts to create educational settings that are equitable for all students. [The A.P. program was built on the allure of being elite, and regardless of the College Board’s claims for seeking equity and diversity, the A.P. program benefits from elitism and selectivity.]
  • The concept of “earning college credit while in high school” distorts and marginalizes the value of both student intellectual development and instructional time spent in courses. While I disagree in some respects with Tierney’s claim that A.P. course are rarely comparable to college-level courses (some A.P. Literature and A.P. Language courses are far more demanding than freshman composition courses), I would pose that it is essentially impossible to capture a college experience in a high school classroom—and there is no reason to seek that goal as well.
  • Thus, A.P. courses draw too much focus on attaining certain content and away form valuing the entire learning experience that is greater than content acquisition.
  • A.P. courses and programs are a secondary and additional financial drain on families (often indirectly) and public funding, yet another source of expenses (time and funding) for materials, tests, and training that would be better spent elsewhere.
  • Another part of the allure of the A.P. program is similar to the promise embedded in the Common Core—establishing a standard curriculum across the U.S. However, if the A.P. program shows us anything, it is that the goal of standardization is both misguided and impossible to attain. In this respect, the A.P. program may not be quite a scam, but it is a mirage.
  • And as Schneider emphasizes, A.P. courses suggest that all we need to do it get what is taught, how it is taught, and how it is tested right and then all will be well. Among almost all the current calls for in-school-only education reform, A.P. courses are distractions from needed social reform and in-school reform seeking equity.

My final point about the College Board’s A.P. program is the same as my argument about school choice: We need to create the sort of equitable public school curriculum for all students that would make A.P. courses unnecessary.

The best parts of my and my students’ experiences when I taught A.P.—small class sizes, teacher autonomy, rich content (mostly immune from censorship), administrative support—can and should be what all teachers and students experience as the norm of schooling—not the rare air of selective programs that cost parents and schools additional funds and time to create.

[1] At surrounding high schools (and common across the U.S.) in the 1980s and 1990s, students were often blocked from taking A.P. courses unless they had scored well on the PSAT or met other quantitative requirements set by schools. At one nearby high school, for example, that had a student body 3 to 4 times larger than where I taught, the A.P. Literature class was about the same number of students as the one I taught.

[2] See Moving Beyond Tracking, Mathis (2013)

[3] Satire Warning: See a post from 2011 below about the “top student” crisis:

Top Student Crisis!: A Call for Trickle-Down Education Reform

The elite minds at The Thomas B. Fordham Institute have unmasked a serious but neglected crisis in education:

[M]any high-achieving students struggle to maintain their elite performance over the years and often fail to improve their reading ability at the same rate as their average and below-average classmates. The study raises troubling questions: Is our obsession with closing achievement gaps and ‘leaving no child behind’ coming at the expense of our ‘talented tenth’—and America’s future international competitiveness?

This study has prompted Room for Debate at The New York Times to ask: “Are Top Students Getting Short Shrift?”

The answer? According to Rick Hess, “We are shortchanging America’s brightest students, and we’re doing it reflexively and furtively.”

The top students in U.S. schools are in crisis, and the economic competitiveness of our country hangs in the balance. With this now exposed, I am calling for a move to trickle-down education reform, modeled on the trickle-down economic theories driving our commitment to avoid overtaxing the wealthy in the U.S. since they are our job creators and the backbone of our thriving economy.

Trickle-Down Education Reform

Trickle-down education reform requires our current education reform movement—spearheaded by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, philanthropist Bill Gates, and student-first advocate Michelle Rhee—to shift its focus on the bottom 10% of student performance and apply their same reform to the top 10%. This transformation must include the following:

  • Initiate funding of Teach for America (TfA) to send their core of teachers to teach in high-needs schools serving the top 10% achieving students. This core must replace the current experienced and certified teachers now teaching the top students.
  • Initiate funding to support Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) charter schools to serve schools consisting only of the the top 10% of students. These top students must be held to “no excuses” and taught to form lines, make eye contact, shake hands, say “yes, sir” and “no, sir,” and chant daily words of inspiration that will serve them well in corporate America.
  • Place the top students in classes with 40-to-1 student/teacher ratios.
  • Eliminate all band, music, art, and PE courses at the schools serving the top students and insure that these students focus exclusively on math, ELA, and science in order to perform well on state and national tests.
  • Increase dramatically the number of tests top students take and provide these top students the intense test-prep they deserve.

Once these reforms have been implemented, of course, we must hold the TfA teachers and KIPP schools accountable for not only the test scores of these top students but also the trickle-down effect of these policies on the remaining 90% of students who are currently being served to the detriment of our top students.

As Michael J. Petrilli implores us:

But if we want to do right by our highest-achieving students — and maintain America’s international competitiveness — we should rethink the move to eradicate tracking. Future generations will thank us.

David Coleman’s Latest Khan

Maybe we need a Khan Academy video series to help the public in the U.S. understand the term “free.”

When you are driving late at night, and you are in unfamiliar rural America in need of a hotel, you see a relatively rundown hotel with a sign announcing “FREE CABLE!”

Well, of course, if you stop and pay for the room, that cable is not “free” (the honest term would be “included”); the cost of that cable is included in the hotel’s operating expenses, which are covered by the rates charged customers.

You see, nothing is free in the consumer culture of the United States—even for those people who have been demonized as “freeloaders,” those receiving welfare or disability or some other access to funds that the U.S. public has deemed unfair (oddly, that doesn’t seem to apply to the uber-wealthy and their trust funds or inheritances, hmmm). If someone acquires anything in the good ol’ USA, somebody is paying for it (and somebody is profiting), and it is often the person who is told she/he is receiving it for “free.”

So we must be quite concerned about this: College Board Enlists Khan Academy to Provide Free Online SAT Prep.

Which is the Cool Whip on the dung pie being offered by the College Board—and led by David Coleman: New SAT To Bring Back 1600-Point Scale — With Optional Essay.

In short, don’t buy it, and especially important, don’t swallow it.

The 2016 SAT reboot is all nonsense, but as disturbing is the monstrosity that is forming as Common Core (another Coleman creation), the SAT and presumably other parts of the College Board (President and CEO Coleman), Pearson, and Sal Khan join forces like a really bad Hollywood production of Marvel’s The Avengers (wait, that has already happened).

Lest we forget, below are some reminders about Khan Academy, and I can recycle from my latest post on the SAT reboot: “No, it’s all nonsense, believe me.  I had no idea how much nonsense it was, but nonsense it all is.”

Part I: [From Schools Matter, March 12, 2012]

Ever wonder how you can become an educator, education expert, or education reformer?

Well, since 60 Minutes has bought into the most recent con-du-jour, the Khan Academy, let’s consider how people become educators.

How about Secretary of Education Arne Duncan?

Peter Smagorinsky puts it best:

“Let’s trace his path to the presidential Cabinet. One of Duncan’s childhood friends, John Rogers, appointed Duncan director of the Ariel Education Initiative in Chicago. Duncan’s directorship led to Ariel’s reincarnation as a charter school, following which Duncan was advanced in the Chicago Public School system from deputy chief of staff to chief executive officer. Note that he worked exclusively at the executive level, never stooping to teach classes or learn about schools except from an operational perspective.”

Or how about Bill Gates? This one is easy, to become an education expert or education reformer, amass billions of dollars.

And Michelle Rhee? Bypass the education establishment by not receiving any degrees in education, become a leader by entering the classroom through TFA, teach three years, and then attain your credibility by firing teachers and creating an education system built on fraudulent test data.

This brings us back to Sal Khan—whose wikipedia page identifies him as an “American educator.” 

Pretty impressive considering he, like Rhee, Duncan, and Gates, has no degrees in education, and like Duncan and Gates, has no experience teaching.

But he got tired of his day job, started tutoring his relatives, made some videos, and now is a full-fledged educator. And according to CBS, he may be the future of education.

I don’t see myself grabbing billions any time soon, or having the connections Duncan and Rhee have to get on the appointment train.

So like Khan, I think I’ll just announce what I am and go from there…

I am a nuclear physicist…

[waits patiently for CBS to call]

Reconsidering the Khan Academy

The Best Posts About The Khan Academy

This Khan Academy History Video Is Just Awful

Khan Academy: It’s Different This Time

Finally, More Criticism of the Khan Academy

The Wrath Against Khan: Why Some Educators Are Questioning Khan Academy

Khan Academy: Improving school by changing nothing

Part II: Why All the Khan-troversy? [Schools Matter, July 26, 2012]

At The Answer Sheet, Valerie Strauss has spurred a debate over the definition of slope—not exactly the sort of detailed intellectual stuff we might expect in a newspaper.

The discussion of the finer points of mathematics is more akin to the nuanced conversations you may find in a university math department or a scholarly journal. But the source of this controversy is Sal Khan and his Khan Academy—which leads us to our need to pull back from the slope debate and address just why is there a controversy about Khan?

I don’t know Sal Khan, and I recognize the inherent danger in making claims about anyone’s intent. On the surface, Khan’s drive to make educational videos accessible to more people has some elements of equity and social justice that I share, but those stated goals are deeply marred by the fact that the equity gap embedded in all technology appears likely to wipe out any access advantage Khan claims his academy offers.

This leads to one very important point about the Khan Academy: The problems with the Khan Academy are primarily couched in the many distorted and corrosive messages and assumptions that the Khan Academy perpetuates as well as how political, popular, and media responses to the Khan Academy deform the education reform debate. Here are the reasons for the controversy:

• Sal Khan directly and indirectly (through media messages about him and his videos) perpetuates a popular and flawed assumption that effective teaching is a direct and singular extension of content expertise. Khan’s allure is in part built on the misguided view in the U.S. that anyone who can do, can also teach. Khan has neither the expertise nor experience as a teacher to justify the praise and claims made about him or his academy. Khan is a celebrity entrepreneur, not an educator. [If Khan had created a series of free videos showing people how to do surgery, I suspect the response would be different, although the essence of the venture is little different.]

• The videos themselves are nothing more than textbooks, static containers of fixed content. Learning, then, is reduced to the acquisition of static knowledge. The videos reinforce that content is value-neutral (it isn’t), and the videos allow teaching and learning to remain within a transmissional paradigm that is neither new nor what is best for the purposes of universal public education in a free society. Whether a video, a textbook, or a set of standards, fixed content removes the agency from the teacher and the learner about what content matters. While the videos are offered as substitutes for lectures, Khan and those who support the academy appear unaware that even lectures in classrooms are reinforced by discussions—content is presented and then negotiated among teachers and students.

• Inherent in the allure of the Khan Academy is the naive faith that technology is somehow offering teaching and learning something new, something revolutionary. The blunt truth, however, is that technology has been heralded for that quality for a century now, and it simply isn’t all it is cracked up to be. Khan’s videos are no more revolutionary than the radio, TV, VHS player, or the laser disc. Technology is often, as with the Khan Academy, a tragic waste of time and energy that misleads us away from the very human endeavors of teaching and learning. Technology at its worst is when it further isolates the learner and learning—already a central problem with traditional classroom practices.

• Sal Khan as a celebrity and self-proclaimed educator feeds into and perpetuates the cultural belief that education is somehow not a scholarly field and that education is a failure because of the entrenched nature of the “education establishment.” Khan as an outsider hasn’t thought of anything that hasn’t already been considered by the many and varied scholars and practitioners in education. Does any field benefit from ideas and practices outside that field? Yes, that is not the issue. But Khan is but one of many of the leading voices heralded as educational revolutionaries (think Gates ad Rhee) who have either no or very little experience or expertise in education. The ugly truth is that if education is failing, that failure is likely because the scholars and practitioners in education have never had the primary voice in how education should be implemented. The great irony is that education scholars and practitioners (notably critical ones) are the true outsiders of the “education establishment.” If you want to know something about math and how to teach it, talk with my high school math teacher first, and then you may be able to decide how valuable Khan’s work is.

• The Khan Academy reinforces the misguided faith we have in a silver-bullet answer to complex educational problems. Education in the U.S. is not suffering from a lack of packaged content (in fact, our commitment to textbooks is one of the major problems in public education); education is burdened by social and education inequities that are far more complex than substituting classroom lectures with videos anyone can access (if that person has internet access and the hardware to view the videos). It is easier and less painful to praise the essentially empty solution Khan is offering than to confront the serious failures of inequity remaining in U.S. society and public education.

Without the fanfare and hyperbole, Khan’s quest to make content accessible online may have some real value—if Khan is willing to bring into that plan the expertise of education scholars and practitioners. Khan’s plan would certainly benefit from a strong dose of humility; a first step to real learning is to acknowledge what one does not know.

But Khan and his academy are likely doomed because of the feeding frenzy around him. The public and media have an unquenchable thirst for rugged individualism, a thirst that is blind, deaf, and ultimately corrosive; and Khan appears to present a simplistic message about how to save a very important but complicated public institution.

The controversy about Khan isn’t about the definition of slope, but the slippery slope of believing the hype because that is easier to swallow than the truth.

Note: See the critique by Christopher Danielson and Michael Paul Goldenberg for a more detailed explanation of problems I have identified above.

SAT Reboot 2016: “Nonsense It All Is”

In the often cited scene near the end of Notting Hill when Anna Scott stands in William Thacker’s shabby book store and asks him to love her, few are likely to recall a key point made by Anna.

But let’s imagine for a moment that instead of trying to save her relationship with William, Anna returns to the store to talk to him about the plan to reboot the SAT in 2016, and instead of the “I’m just a girl” bit, we focus on this from Anna:

“No, it’s all nonsense, believe me.  I had no idea how much nonsense it was, but nonsense it all is.”

And there you have it, neatly dressed in Hollywood garb, but essentially how we must all respond to the David Coleman-led charge to merge the Common Core (the newest education scam) with the SAT (possibly the oldest and longest running education scam).

Not long ago, I reasserted about the SAT: What is the SAT Good For? Absolutely Nothing, noting in part:

  • The College Board itself cautions against using the SAT for any comparative purposes: “Educators, the media and others should…not rank or rate teachers, educational institutions, districts or states solely on the basis of aggregate scores derived from tests that are intended primarily as a measure of individual students.” Average SAT scores for any state reflect the affluence of the test takers and the relative percentage of test takes—but certainly not the quality of the schools or the teachers.
  • The College Board’s own research repeatedly confirms that SAT scores are less predictive of freshman college success than GPA. (See Table 5, p. 5)
  • SAT scores historically and currently are most strongly correlated with parental income and level of education for parents. Select any year from the archived data, and these facts are confirmed. In short, the SAT is a metric that confirms privilege more so than identifying academic achievement or academic readiness for college (except in which ways those are inextricably tied to privilege).

I cannot fathom any reason to believe this 2016 reboot will create changes to draw a different conclusion. In fact, this reboot is just another publicity move by the College Board/SAT that falls in line with recent history: the mid-1990s re-centering (scores were dropping due to the testing pool changing and thus the SAT was getting bad press), the expansion in 2005 (the University of California caused a stir by calling for opting out of the SAT and thus the SAT was getting bad press), and now the 2016 reboot (the ACT surpassed the SAT in number of students taking the exam and thus the SAT was getting bad press).

There simply has never been and will never be a way to justify the time and expense needed to implement single-sitting standardized tests in pursuit of doing something for which we already have rich, credible, and free data (GPA) to guide decisions about students entering higher education.

The relentless faith in the SAT (and ACT) in the U.S. is trapped inside a misguided belief in objectivity—even though standardized tests have been shown repeatedly to perpetuate biases related to class, race, and gender.

This is the third major time the SAT has opened the door to reconsidering the test. The first two times, we mostly just walked in and sat right back at the table that was not really different at all except for the table cloth.

This third time, now that the SAT has opened the door again, we must kick it out, and ask Coleman and company to take the Common Core with them.

The 2016 reboot of the SAT is nonsense, “it’s all nonsense, believe me.”

And just as William did (briefly) when Anna came calling once again, we must take a stand and tell the College Board: “Can I just say no to your kind request?”

Please considering the following as well:

“New” SAT Plan Fails to Address Exam’s Major Flaws

FairTest Questions the College Board on Plans for “New” SAT

The key problem the SAT changes won’t fix

At The OnionChanges To The SAT

Looking at Wrong Outcomes, Missing the Lesson

The College Board has a recent history of recreating itself, notably the cyclical revision of the SAT and now a move to resurrect the Advanced Placement (AP) program.

While I am no fan of the College Board, specifically the problems related to the SAT, I taught most of my nearly two decades as a high school English teacher in a rural South Carolina public school either preparing my students for AP English courses (“advanced” feeder courses leading to Literature and Composition or Language and Composition) or teaching AP Literature and Composition.

Setting aside for a moment the conflicts of interest and disturbing self-promotion behind the College Board revamping AP courses on the heels of David Coleman turning his Common Core State Standards (CCSS) gig into being named president of College Board, consider Jack Schneider’s challenge to the new AP plan, which builds to this central criticism:

Evidence to the contrary, however, is all around us.  Look, for instance, at Mississippi, which has the lowest average household income in the U.S. and the highest percentage of African-American residents.  Given the way that educational resources are distributed, it should come as no surprise that nearly half of students taking AP exams in the state scored a 1 out of 5.  Only four percent of students scored a 5.  These are not the kinds of problems that the AP Program can solve.

In order to consider both the credibility of the College Board’s plan to reform their AP programs and Scheider’s critique, I want to focus first on a teacher story of mine, building on a key point made by Brian Jones about the inherent failure of CCSS and those who advocate for yet another standards and testing cycle:

I heard a woman who’s been involved with high-level education policy discussions defend the Common Core’s de-emphasis of personal narratives because, she argued, that’s not the kind of writing people need to do in college. At the end of her presentation, a teacher who opposed the Common Core standards asked her if she, as a teacher, could really do anything to influence policy. This same woman told her that the most powerful thing a teacher could do to influence policy would be to speak to lawmakers directly and tell a story — tell a specific story about how these policies affect her classroom. Without realizing it, she argued that personal narratives were not important for “college and career readiness”, but if you are setting out to change the world, personal narratives are the most powerful thing you’ve got [emphasis added].

If we let the corporations organize education, it will be an education that’s about fitting our children into their workplaces — into the narrow vision of working life that they have in store for the next generation.

As I noted above, I taught throughout the 1980s and 1990s in the same rural Upstate SC high school that I had attended in the 1970s. During my years as a student in that school, no AP courses were offered, but during my college years, my former high school English teacher and mentor, Lynn Harrill, brought AP to the school.

In 1984, I assumed not only Lynn’s position in the English department but also his room. While it would take several years for me to earn the role of teaching in the AP program Lynn built, I eventually taught the feeder sophomore course into the program before later teaching AP Literature and Composition; I also as department chair added AP Language and Composition (taught by a colleague).

This high school included only about 750-900 students while I taught there and served a relatively high-poverty population of students. If anyone had chosen to judge the success of our AP program as Schneider has—focusing on AP test scores, outcomes—that most students over the years scored 2s and 1s would likely paint a picture of failure.

Charts of the data over the years ignore some genuinely important facts about whether of not AP was successful at my high school, including whether or not that failure or success was directly caused by the AP program itself.

First, what the data do not tell you is that we did not gate-keep students as the College Board recommended; we didn’t use PSAT scores in order to weed out only the best and the brightest. In fact, a neighboring high school with  triple our student body size routinely had about the same total number of AP students as I taught.

The policy of our AP program was providing access to high-quality courses for as many students as possible, not test-score outcomes.

Next, since the administration was committed to increasing student access to AP, they were also committed to supporting me as a teacher, manifesting itself in low class sizes (I usually taught two sections of 15 students, or less, per class) and nearly complete teacher autonomy.

Again, if student test scores are all that matter, that my students overwhelmingly scored 2s and 1s (throughout my years teaching AP, a score of 3 was considered “passing” because most colleges awarded college credit for 3s and above) suggested that my students, our program, and I were all failures.

The story, however, is something quite different. Over the years, we received countless messages from our students once they were in college: Our graduates eagerly and without prompting praised the opportunities they were given in high school, recognizing the tremendous base they carried into college because of their experiences in their AP courses.

Again, most of these students scored 2s on the AP exam. Not unusual was a former student contacting me to intervene with their freshman English college professor, who believed the student’s freshman essays were too good to be original.

To this day, my Facebook account is punctuated with the voices of former students echoing that somehow we had been successful in our classes. Let me emphasize that many of these students would have been excluded from AP if our school had used the gate-keeping mechanisms the College Board recommended.

Why were we successful, despite the evidence of the test scores?

• Access to a rich curriculum, student-centered classrooms, workshop environments, low student/teacher ratios.

• Teacher autonomy along with administrative, parent, and student support.

What are the real lessons?

• AP didn’t cause any of our success. [In fact, we took the framework of the AP template, but made it far more effective by meeting the needs of our students without regard for the simplistic outcomes associated with the test scores.]

• Test scores hide genuine academic success.

Ultimately, the College Board and Schneider are making the wrong arguments, in fact, a problem we are also facing with adoption of the CCSS (wrestling over if the standards are “rigorous” or how to implement them or what the tests should look like versus confronting the folly of standards- and test-based schooling).

Instead of reforming any specific program or policy, and instead of focusing on outcomes to judge if a program works or if a reform works, we must begin to seek and value an equitable access to rich educational experiences for all children, as Jones notes:

Interestingly, the very things that we’ve been arguing for decades that our schools desperately need, are the very things that the rich insist on in their schools: more resources, rich curriculum (not just reading and math), experienced teachers (not just grinding through newbies), and small class sizes!…

When it comes to meeting our students’ basic needs, they claim there’s no money. But when it comes to data gathering there’s a blank check. New York City is going to spend $32 million to pay Pearson to develop more tests over the next five years.

Teachers and schools, regardless of the quality of those teachers or the courses students are offered, will never alone overcome the inequity of children’s lives, particularly if we look at the numbers instead of the people involved and especially if we are not patient, expecting some instant evidence of success.

Most of the success I do recognize (along with the many mistakes weaved in among that eventual success) has come into view only many years later. And for  my students who trace something positive to  my classroom, I would caution that they should also look in the mirror and recognize the dozens of other related experiences that create the momentum that leads to success.

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “One is not born into the world to do everything but to do something.”

This is one of many Thoreau quotes that grew yellow on my classroom walls. While I believed it was a powerful message for my students, often frozen as they were by their own society-imposed rush to be perfect immediately (or prove themselves the failures they feared they were), I am more convinced than ever that Thoreau is speaking to the world of education reform.

It is not ours to do everything, but the something is pretty clear, and that something must include a commitment to creating equitable opportunities for all children, and that equity must be wrapped in kindness and patience.

In time, these students will become adults who remember those opportunities as well as that kindness and patience but not their AP scores or their college GPA.