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The dismal picture painted by MCPS AP scores

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The Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) December 6, 2013, news release screams that “73 percent earn a college-ready score” on Advanced Placement (AP) exams in 2013. The text of the news release discloses that MCPS students took 33,000 AP exams in 2013 and “73 percent of those exams earned a college-ready score of 3 or higher.”

However, the claim that an AP score of 3 can also be considered “college-ready score” is of dubious validity.

The College Board, the purveyor of AP courses, conveniently provides the means of finding colleges and universities that offer credit or placement for AP scores. Alternatively, the official college or university website can also provide the requisite information.

For example, the Johns Hopkins University, a prestigious private university in Maryland, maintains a webpage for AP/IB/Other Credit Information. The first table, available on the webpage, lists the AP courses and the score required to receive credit from Johns Hopkins University.

Two things jump out at the reader. The first is the sparse listing of courses. The second is that to receive college credit, one must score a 4 or higher. In fact, some courses require a score of 5 to receive credit. George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., also requires a score of a 4 or a 5 on AP courses to be eligible for college credit.

Maryland’s flagship public university, the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP), also maintains a webpage describing AP credit policies. For the vast majority of courses, UMCP requires a score of 4 or 5, and just a handful of AP courses accepted for credit with a score of 3.

Very simply, a blanket statement that an AP score of 3 is a college-ready score is inaccurate. Furthermore, not all AP courses are eligible for college or university credit.

A perusal of the MCPS memorandum that accompanies the news release highlights another interesting facet of the school system: a handful of schools have students who, on average, took five or more AP courses each. Those schools were Montgomery Blair, Winston Churchill, Richard Montgomery, and Poolesville. Blair and Poolesville house highly selective magnet programs, while Richard Montgomery is home to the equally selective International Baccalaureate® (IB) program.

Just 47% of MCPS students identifying themselves as black or African-American received an AP score of 3 or higher. In contrast, nearly 80% their white counterparts received a similar range of scores. On the other hand, 56% of Hispanic or Latino students received a score that MCPS calls “college-ready.” For practical purposes, the gap between white and black students in MCPS was not very different from figures for Maryland or the nation. In other words, there is little evidence of MCPS closing the gap between white and black students—the so called academic achievement gap.

The persistence of the achievement gap is illustrative of the fact that MCPS has failed to provide the supports necessary, from pre-K through high school, to ensure the success of minorities. The disparity between black and Hispanic student performance also hints at a component that is endemic to black families.

Rather than whitewash the dismal performances of minorities by claiming “73 percent” earned “college-ready” scores, MCPS should embark on a serious campaign to thresh out serious strategies to narrow the gap. Not the least of those strategies should be the use of its public relations division to promote a culture that values education, rather than to toot its own horn.

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