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Commenting on a recent Dagger story about the high school Advanced Placement program offered in Harford County Public Schools, Dagger reader “TP” wrote:
“The data provided by HCPS is not complete. We would be better served by obtaining comparable data. For example
1. Which AP courses were offered at each high school?
2. How many students took the course but NOT the test?
3. For each test at each school, how many 5’s, 4’s, 3’s, 2’s and 1’s were scored in each subject?
4. How many tests were taken in the “varsity” subjects such as Bio, Chem, Physics, Calculus AB, BC ?
I would hope that someone at the Dagger can dig up this information because it always seems to be unavailable for some reason”
HCPS puts out a press release each year covering AP results, but doesn’t typically provide much detail.
This year, The Dagger requested and received the 2010 data called for by TP, which appear in the tables below. For comparison purposes, 2009 data can be found here.
The Advanced Placement program, in place at each of the 10 comprehensive public high schools in Harford County, consists of AP classes in a variety of subjects followed by AP exams that give students a taste of college-level work and the chance to earn college credit. AP courses are optional and students may take an AP course without taking the corresponding exam.
Students might opt out of taking an AP exam because they don’t expect they will pass, considering their grades in the class or their performance on practice tests. College-bound seniors might skip the exam if the school they plan to attend will not award credit for a passing score. The $87 exam fee may also discourage test-takers, although the fees are waived for students living in poverty.
AP Subjects Offered in HCPS
While all Harford County public high schools offered AP courses in 2010, certain schools offered more subjects than others. Often a factor of school size and teacher-availability, the number of AP subjects offered ranged from a high of 19 at C. Milton Wright, to nine at Joppatowne, to a low of five at Harford Tech, possibly due to that school’s required focus on technical courses.
AP courses in English, Calculus and U.S. History were offered in every high school, but offerings in the sciences were uneven. The only school without AP Biology, Havre de Grace High School also had no AP Chemistry or Physics, but did have Environmental Science. AP Physics was offered in only three of the ten comprehensive high schools, Chemistry in seven out of the ten, Environmental Science was offered everywhere but Harford Tech.
Harford Tech, Havre de Grace and Joppatowne offered AP English Literature, whereas all of the other schools offered both English Lit and English Language. AP Psychology was offered in half of the schools. AP Statistics was offered everywhere except Harford Tech.
The Big Picture
The school-based results provided by HCPS are based on reports compiled by the non-profit College Board, which administers the AP program nationwide. To help form an overall view of the AP program in HCPS, The Dagger tapped Bill Ekey, former HCPS Director of Secondary Education, to assist in aggregating some of the data.
In terms of test results, 61% of the 2,327 AP exams taken in HCPS last year earned a passing score of three or higher. The top scoring schools, C. Milton Wright (77%) Aberdeen (71%) and Bel Air (65%) pulled up the average for the other seven, whose passing rates mostly hovered between 35 and 56%. Joppatowne’s passing rate was the lowest at 23.5%.
Looking at the distribution of passing scores (3s, 4s or 5s), most tests (28%) scored a 3, but there were strong results at the higher levels with 22% of tests scoring a 4 and nearly 11% of tests earning the top score of 5.
To get an overview of the prevalence of test-takers among those who took AP courses, the number of students who took at least one AP exam at each school was divided by total AP enrollment at the school. This is an imperfect measurement because the total AP enrollment data provided by HCPS counted students each time they took an AP class. So a Fallston student who took classes in both AP Biology and AP Spanish would be counted twice in Fallston’s total AP enrollment. However, using the same measurement for all schools allowed for comparisons among county schools. By far, Harford Tech had the most test-takers as a percent of total AP enrollment at 71%; the county average was 36%.
Added to the charts at Ekey’s suggestion was the 2010 enrollment of tenth, eleventh and twelfth graders at each school, because that is the eligible population for AP courses (only in rare instances would a freshman be enrolled in an AP course.) For each school and for the county overall, the numbers of test-takers were then compared to the eligible AP population, providing another view of AP program participation. C. Milton Wright had the highest percentage of test-takers by this measure (26.3%), while Edgewood, Havre de Grace and Joppatowne were in the single digits. The county average was 17 %
Data by Subject and by School
In almost every school there were bright spots in certain AP subjects, even if the exams were sometimes taken by only a handful of students. The AP Statistics class offered at Edgewood High School showed strong results, with nearly all of the students in the class opting to take the test and 75% earning a passing score. At Havre de Grace High, 100% of the test-takers in Calculus passed the exams and at Joppatowne, 71% of test-takers passed the U.S. History exam.
Some results were surprising on the low side. The passing rate was 43% on the Calculus AB exam at C.Milton Wright, and 36% at Bel Air, in both cases with about three quarters of the class taking the test. Results on the higher-level Calculus BC exam were in the range of 90% to 100% at nearly every school where it was offered.
AP Foreign Language classes, offered everywhere but Harford Tech, Joppatowne and North Harford, generally had test- takers numbering in the single digits and passing rates that ran the gamut from 0% to 100%. Results for AP English Literature were split, with passing rates at half of the schools in the eighty to ninety percent range, but hovering near 50% for the other half. The sciences were also a mixed bag, with some outstanding results – AP Chemistry at Patterson Mill (85%), and some much less so – AP Biology at North Harford (10%).
In some cases AP course enrollment was robust, but the vast majority of students didn’t take the corresponding AP exam. At Aberdeen, 81 students took the AP Psychology course, but only 13 took the exam. At Patterson Mill, total AP course enrollment was an eye-popping 82% of the AP eligible population, but test-takers were less than a third of AP enrollment.
Readers will likely wonder why the results vary so much by school and by subject, a question I posed to Ekey as we discussed the data. The answers are complex, Ekey said, involving factors such as socio-economic status that are beyond the control of HCPS. But Ekey, who is also a former HCPS principal and who is now with Harford Community College, said that a dynamic and engaged teacher was almost always at the root of success in the AP program. Noting Harford Schools Superintendent Robert Tomback’s recent budget proposal to pay for students to take AP exams, a plan that was narrowly rejected by the school board, Ekey opined, “County money probably ought to go to training [AP] teachers who want to take the time to do that.”
Understanding the Data
Tables for each of Harford County’s ten comprehensive public high schools appear below. Most columns should be self explanatory but just in case, here a few clarifying points:
For each school, the column labeled “Total AP Students in Your School” shows how many students took at least one AP exam in 2010. The column labeled “Total Exams” is the number of exams taken at the school, keeping in mind that students can take AP exams in more than one subject. Using Aberdeen as an example, last year there were 155 “Total AP Students” in the school who took 292 exams.
For each AP subject offered within a school, the number of students who took the class is listed, as is the number who also took the corresponding exam. The column labeled “% Test Takers” reveals the percentage of students who took an AP class in a particular subject who also took the exam. For example at Bel Air High School, ten students took the AP Spanish class and three took the exam, so 30% of the students in the AP Spanish class were test-takers in that subject.
Also for each AP subject, the number of exams scoring one through five is noted at each school and another column labeled “% 3, 4, 5” shows the percentage of tests that yielded a passing score of 3, 4 or 5.
Using the information provided by HCPS, The Dagger compiled some aggregated data, again with the help of Bill Ekey, which is appended to the results for each school.
C. Milton Wright
Havre de Grace
NOTE: This version of the above story includes a correction to the text and the tables regarding test-takers as a percentage of the eligible AP population at Aberdeen High School. An earlier version incorrectly stated that Aberdeen had the highest percentage of test-takers in the county at 30%. The correct figure for Aberdeen is 15% and the highest percentage in the county was 26.3% at C. Milton Wright.