Concern over test score discrepancies
Ryan Summerlin September 24, 2013
At the Park City School District (PCSD) Board of Education meeting last Tuesday, Park City High School (PCHS) Assistant Principal Lyndsay Anderson gave a much-anticipated presentation on Advanced Placement (AP) test scores.
PCHS students can take 27 different AP course tests, and in the past three years, PCHS has had high AP test scores, beating not only the state of Utah but countries across the globe.
AP tests are scored from 1-5, and 3 and up qualifies as a passing score. According to Anderson’s research, the total percent of scores 3+ in 2013 was 72 percent as opposed to 68 percent in Utah overall and 61 percent across the world.
While the high school’s overall scores continue to surpass Utah and the globe, it has experienced a decline in several specific areas. The total percent of scores 3+ in 2012 was 78 percent. Anderson attributes the decline to several factors.
"They range from increase in enrollment [in AP classes], lack of acceptance at colleges, class size, teacher changes and test changes," Anderson said.
Class size at the high school has been a concern since last year. At last month’s board meeting, one PCHS mother used the public forum to note that her child’s teacher was unable to provide personal instruction due to a large class load.
PCSD Superintendent Ember Conley spoke on the subject before the AP discussion began, saying that she has met with several of the district’s principals about the matter.
"I’ve already met with Mr. O’Connor and Mr. McNaughten, reviewing their average class sizes and having discussions as far as what our forecast ahead is if this is an area that our community, governing board and staff feels, that the class sizes need to be smaller, and how can we do that effectively within our budget," Conley said.
PCHS Principal Bob O’Connor addressed the matter earlier this year stating that the school "made math, science and language arts classes a priority and did [its] best to protect class sizes in those subjects."
Anderson also said that she has seen a growing trend, in which fewer colleges are accepting AP test scores and credits, so the students that want to go to those colleges and would most likely score 3+ on AP tests are not bothering with taking them.
"If you have your really high students that have already been accepted at those top schools, ones that are not allowing AP credits to come in, they are not taking the tests," Anderson said.
AP classes in science include Chemistry, Environmental Science, Biology, and Physics B. Physics C is broken down into two tests: Electricity and Magnetism and Mechanics. The decline in 3+ test scores overall was 81 percent from 90 percent in 2012.
"One thing in science I can point out for this year is that the Biology AP test did change," Anderson said. "That particular teacher is re-working his content, syllabus, and instruction."
This teacher did not give practice tests, because he knew he could not provide his students with honest and timely feedback due to a large class load, she said.
AP courses and tests in English include English Language and English Literature. This year, PCHS had a pass rate of 56 percent falling short of the 67 percent pass rate in Utah overall. The two AP test pass rates were put together for a total percent of 68, down from 70 percent in 2012.
The overall pass rate for math AP test scores in Calculus AB, Calculus BC and Statistics declined the most, falling to 72 percent from 89 percent in 2012, narrowly beating the state of Utah as a whole at 71 percent.
The social studies pass rate fell to 77 percent from 81 percent, and Anderson said that higher enrollment in those classes, a factor in the decline, can be ascribed to the fact that students can begin taking social studies AP courses in ninth grade.
"They typically start with AP geography in ninth grade, and they can extend all the way into AP government at the twelfth grade level," Anderson said.
The AP test pass rate in fine arts, which includes tests in Music Theory, Drawing Portfolio, 2-D Design Portfolio and 3-D Design Portfolio, experienced significant decline from 97 percent in 2012 to 89 percent this year.
The foreign language AP test rate, including French Language and Culture, Spanish Language and Spanish Literature and Culture, remained the same as last year at 72 percent.
Conley credited the fluctuating AP test pass rate numbers to the large diversity of AP courses offered at PCHS in comparison to other schools that offer maybe only two or three AP courses. When a full AP audit comes in and 50 percent of the junior class is taking an AP test, that means that they have had preparation long before high school in order to even be in that class, she said.
"We’re in the business of continual improvement, and when you look at that, to have access to the high level of AP classes that we have and the number of sections and number of classes that we offer is tremendous," said Conley.
Anderson then said that the number of students who can take AP courses is unlimited, unlike other high schools in the nation.
"At other high schools you can only take two AP courses your junior year and then you have to appeal to take the third as a senior and make another appeal to take four," said Anderson. "We can absolutely limit who can have access, but we pride ourselves on being inclusive with equal-access to the curriculum."