Tuesday, May 17, 2016

My Equity Button

Princeton High School students sure do love their Advanced Placement courses. According to New Jersey D.O.E. data, last year 97.3% of students there signed up for one of the 20  AP courses offered, everything from Calculus BC to Music Theory, and 89.7% of students achieved a score of 3 or better (on a scale of 1-5), widely accepted as proof of college-level proficiency.

Yet while parents of Princeton students delight in their children’s participation in these elite classes and assessments, they disdain any checks and balances for general education courses, as manifested by their enthusiasm for boycotting PARCC tests. This pushes my equity button.

Advanced Placement classes are great. One of the reasons they’re great is because the College Board carefully monitors course content and teacher preparation.  It doesn’t matter if you live in Princeton or ten miles down the road in Trenton: U.S. History and Government is U.S. History and Government. From the College Board’s Course Audit page:
The AP® Course Audit was created at the request of both secondary school and college members of the College Board who sought a means for the College Board to:
  • Provide AP teachers and administrators with clear guidelines on curricular and resource requirements that must be in place for AP courses. 
  • Give colleges and universities confidence that AP courses are designed to meet the same clearly articulated college-level criteria across high schools.
  • All schools wishing to label a course “AP” must submit the subject-specific AP Course Audit form and the course syllabus for each teacher of that AP course.
In other words, an AP course is an AP course, as long as you have access. And Princeton parents love academic courses with clear expectations and measurements of outcomes. Just don’t call them PARCC.

I shouldn’t harp on Princeton (although the irony of the exclusive college town birthing Save Our Schools-NJ just throttles me). After all, this incongruous approach to standards and assessments is replicated everywhere: Long Island and New York City, Bridgeton and Greenwich. How do wealthy parents square their kids’ privilege to pick and choose among a plethora of courses that adhere to  strict standards for oversight and accountability while simultaneously undermining academic checks and balances for students in districts like Trenton and Camden?

Speaking of, at Trenton Central High last year two A.P. courses were offered (U.S. History and Biology) and the participation rate among all high school students was 4.5%.  Forty-five minutes south of Princeton at Camden High School,  0% of students took an A.P. course or test.

We embrace oversight of coursework available to select students but turn up our collective noses at oversight of coursework accessible to all students. Parents know that standards and assessments for AP Literature and Composition are reliable and consistent, no matter what district their children attend. Parents have no such reassurance for Algebra I. That's why people concerned with educational equity support efforts like Common Core (whatever you want to call it) and aligned assessments. Maybe someone will explain the Save Our Schools/Princeton mindset to me. Maybe there's an AP course I can take.

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