Thursday, October 27, 2011

AP Participation and Performance in Lynn

At a Lynn School Committee Debate on October 17, one candidate stated that Lynn should consider adding more Advanced Placement (AP) classes to its course offerings while answering a question about academic standards. The Advanced Placement program, which is a curriculum offered in the United States and Canada sponsored by the College Board, allows high school students to take courses that are widely recognized to be equivalent to undergraduate courses in college. Students who obtain a score of 3 or higher on a 5 point scale  on the standardized AP test given in May are often eligible to receive college credit once they matriculate at an undergraduate institution.

Currently, there are about 34 AP courses offered by the College Board. Of the 34 possible courses, Lynn offers 12 different AP courses in its high schools, though Lynn English and Lynn Classical do differ slightly in their advanced placement options. See below for the AP courses available to Lynn students.

English Literature/Composition (Classical, English)
English Language/Composition (Classical, English)
French Language (Classical, English)
Latin: Virgil (English)
Spanish Language (Classical, English)
Economics (Micro) (Classical)
Government and Politics (Classical, English)
US History (Classical, English)
Calculus AB (Classical, English)
Statistics (Classical, English)
Biology (Classical, English)
Environmental Science (Classical)

For a comparison, some other districts on the North Shore offer slightly more AP courses (Swampscott: 17; Salem: 14; Revere: 13; Peabody: 16). Of similar districts in terms of demographics, Lynn offers more AP courses than some (New Bedford: 11; Holyoke: 9) and less than others (Lawrence: 19; Lowell: 15). 

Perhaps what is more salient than the sheer number of AP courses offered in Lynn (and other low income districts) is the types of students that participate in the AP program and how well the students perform on the year end AP exam. 


During the 2009-10 school year, 228 students in Lynn took a total of 585 AP exams which averages out to about 2.6 tests per student. On average, Lynn is seeing its high school students who do participate in AP courses take more of these classes than similar communities (Holyoke: 1.3/student; Brockton 1.6/student; Lawrence: 2.2/student; Lowell: 2/student) and some wealthier communities (Marblehead: 2.2/student; Wellesley: 2.1). Many students (96 or 42%) only took one exam but there was considerable number of students that took five or more AP exams in a single year (36). Of the cities Lynn is most often grouped with, Lowell had six student take five or more exams while Lawrence had 27 take five or more. The most popular exams among students in Lynn were AP English Language/Composition, US History and Biology.

Gender differences in AP participation did exist as almost twice as many females took at least one AP exam when compared to  their male counterparts. This trend is consistent with other communities who saw many more females take AP courses compared to males (Lawrence 261 to 119; Danvers: 105 to 54). Interestingly, nearly half of the students who took AP exams were determined to be low income with 121 low income students taking 273 exams; fifteen of the thirty-six students who took five or more AP tests were low income. In terms of racial/ethnic differences, white/Caucasian students and Black/African American students had the highest average number of AP exams taken per student (2.8) and Hispanic students had the lowest (2.1). Overall, 41.2% of students taking at least one AP were white/Caucasian, 30% were Hispanic, 17.1% were Asian and 8.3% were Black/African American; none were considered to be Limited English Proficiency or Special Education.


A major part of Advanced Placement courses' draw is the ability to received college credit before stepping foot on a college campus. There have been some high school students who have received so many credits that they begin college as sophomores and are able to graduate in 3 years. Other students are able to skip some of their schools' general education requirements based on AP credit. So, while standardized tests are not necessarily indicative of how intelligent a student is, AP scores are valuable in the sense that students who receive AP credit often save money (and time) once they enter college.

In 2010, only 34.7% of all students on all exams obtained passing scores on the AP tests in Lynn. However, there were some specific tests on which students fared much better. Sixty percent of students taking the English Language/Composition test passed while 71.4% of students taking the Spanish Language test received a score of 3 or higher. AP tests with the lowest pass rates include Government and Politics, Calculus, Statistics, and Environmental Science. There were a few gender differences on individual tests as males passed Statistics and Spanish at a higher rate than females. In terms of racial/ethnic differences, the pass rates for Black/African, Hispanic, and Caucasian students were all approximately 35-36% with Asian students passing at a slightly lower rate (27.9%).


From this, we see that there is a considerable number of Lynn students who are high achieving and have sought to include some of the most rigorous courses that Lynn offers it students. What may be beneficial than simply adding more AP courses, however, may be to first increase participation in advanced courses. AP courses are generally offered to students in their junior and senior years. As such, there are over 1,800 students in Lynn who could potentially take these courses, yet only about 230 students take AP courses/exams each year. It is important that students at least know the benefits of taking advanced courses (college credit, advantages in the college admission process) and are encouraged to challenge themselves as a way to increase the number of students taking these courses.

Also of importance is ensuring that the most qualified instructors are teaching AP courses.While the low pass rates on AP exams in Lynn may not be entirely related those teaching the classes, it would behoove school principals to ensure that teachers with the most appropriate credentials are teaching advanced courses, especially AP math and science courses. Additionally, providing AP specific professional development for these teachers would help to ensure that the so-called "advanced" courses are as rigorous as they are intended to be by the College Board.

Thus, while increasing the quantity of AP courses available to students is essential to keeping students challenged and engaged in school, the most pressing issue at this junction should be to increase students' exposure to our schools' course offerings and also to ensure that these courses of the utmost quality in terms of rigor and instruction.

Data taken from:

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