What goes up must come down

Here’s a piece of unsurprising news: More students are failing
Advanced Placement exams. We could have told you this last spring, when we surveyed AP teachers
about the push to offer the program’s rigorous content to more
students. Many of the students being encouraged to take AP classes are
not ready to do so, they told us. According to this USA Today
analysis, 41.5 percent of students failed their AP exams (i.e., getting a
score of 1 or 2 on a 5-point scale) in 2009. That’s 5 percentage points
higher than in 1999. Failure rates for students in the South have risen
7 percent to 48.4 percent. Much of this is predictable; after all, now
that access to the AP program has been democratized, weaker students are
enrolling, and you would expect them to perform worse on the tests. (In
a similar manner, SAT scores declined once a broader group of students
started sitting for the exam.) The big unanswered question is whether
the expansion of AP to the masses is hurting the nation’s most talented
students, who now sit in class with under-prepared peers. And because
the College Board is refusing to let researchers take a peek at its
data, that’s a question that will remain unanswered for now.

Failure rate of AP tests climbing,” by Greg Toppo and Jack Gillum, USA Today, February 6, 2010

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