East County and Downcounty students took fewer AP exams in 2013

Students in Montgomery County Public Schools made some gains on the Advanced Placement exams last year, which allow students to earn college credit. But in East County and Downcounty schools, test participation and scores have fallen, in some cases dramatically.

Northeast and Downcounty consortia students are taking fewer Advanced Placement exams.

Northeast and Downcounty consortia students are taking fewer Advanced Placement exams.

Last week, the College Board released its Advanced Placement test scores for 2013. In a memo to the Board of Education, Superintendent Joshua Starr said that the Class of 2013 “continued to maintain the high rates of participation and performance” on AP exams and claimed that “MCPS high schools continued to support AP exam participation and performance of minority graduates,” noting that many schools saw increased numbers of black and Hispanic students taking the exams.

But the actual data isn’t as encouraging. Across MCPS, 66% of the class of 2013 took AP exams, a small decrease from the previous year, when 67.3% of graduates took the exams. Meanwhile, the percentage of black and Hispanic students taking AP exams fell. 39.6% of black students and 51.6% of Hispanic students sat for the exams in 2013, compared to 43% and 54.2%, respectively.

AP participation rates decreased at all three Northeast Consortium high schools, Blake, Paint Branch, and Springbrook, and four out of the five Downcounty Consortium high schools, Einstein, Kennedy, Northwood, and Wheaton. At Einstein, the percentage of students taking AP exams fell from 61.2% to 50%, a difference of 11 points. At Wheaton, it fell from 66.7% to 58.9%, a difference of 9 points. 57.8% of graduates took the exams at Blair High School, an increase of one point from the previous year.

Students at consortia schools also aren’t performing as well. The percentage of students scoring 3 or more on AP exams fell at every Northeast and Downcounty consortia high school except for Blair. (AP exams are graded on a 5-point scale, with 5 being the highest score.) At Springbrook, it fell 7 points, from 28.7% in 2012 to 21.7% in 2012.

Participation among black and Hispanic students has fallen as well. The percentage of black students sitting for the AP exam fell from 50.7% to 32.9% at Einstein, a difference of 18 points. At Northwood, it fell 12 points from 52.4% to 40.2%, and at Paint Branch, it fell from 49.5% to 40.7%. Meanwhile, the rate increased 4 points at Springbrook, from 33.7% to 37.3%, and 1 point at Blake, from 35.4% to 36.6%. And the percentage of Hispanic students taking the exams fell 10 points at Springbrook, 8 points at Blake, Einstein, and Wheaton, and 7 points at Kennedy.

White students are also taking fewer AP exams across the consortia. The percentage fell 13 points at Wheaton, 9 points at Northwood, 8 points at Kennedy, and 3 points at Blake. But the rate of white students sitting for AP exams did increase 17 points at Paint Branch.

Meanwhile, schools on the western side of the county are doing better than ever. Black and Hispanic students took more tests, and received more high scores, at Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Rockville, and Poolesville high schools.

Later this month, the College Board will release data for the state of Maryland and the nation as a whole, allowing us to see how our students compete on a state and national level. AP scores are just one measurement of student performance, and not always the best one. But they do indicate a growing achievement gap within Montgomery County Public Schools, which is not only hurting our students, but our communities as well.

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Minority, low-income students lag peers in AP exam participation

Last month, Montgomery County Public Schools announced that high school students had taken a record number of Advanced Placement exams, which allow them to receive college credit. But as with many measures of success in the school system, there remains a huge gap in performance between minority and low-income students and their counterparts. Our own Fred Stichnoth breaks down the results in a letter to the Gazette:

Today, very roughly, the proportion of MCPS AP exams taken by blacks and Hispanics is only half their representation among MCPS high school students; and the proportion of 3 or higher scores earned by blacks and Hispanics is only a third their representation among MCPS high school students.

The proportions are worse for students in poverty: their proportion of MCPS’ exams is only a quarter of their proportion of MCPS high school students; and their proportion of tests scored 3 or higher is only a fifth of their representation in MCPS high schools.

In MCPS’ celebratory Dec. 6 announcement “MCPS Students Take a Record Number of AP Exams,” Dr. Joshua Starr pronounces himself “very pleased.” His “there are still significant gaps” is merely an increasingly common, fine print, boilerplate add-on.

The superintendent’s comparison of black and Hispanic performance in MCPS to that in the state and nation is a bit like comparing Division I to Division III: It ignores the superior resources at MCPS’ disposal and MCPS’ Core Value commitment to closing the gaps among its own students.

Montgomery County Public Schools is known as one of the best school systems in the country. But we can’t hold on to that reputation if we hold different groups of students to different standards.