Shameful: How Duval County used A.P. tests to end teacher’s careers and shortchange students and continues to do so.

What happened to
accelerated courses of study in Duval County?

There is a reason you
don’t make policy based on anecdotal evidence. It’s so if that evidence proves
false you haven’t made a mess of everything. Drug companies are required to go
through many trials to prove their product is both safe and does what is
advertised. Unfortunately education policies don’t work that way, they get enacted
when the powers-that-be, who are rarely educators, read a pamphlet during a flight
delay, or their sister’s neighbor’s cousin says “hey try this.” Nowhere is this
more evident than in the use of advanced placement classes here in Duval County
and Florida.
For years people went
around saying there was evidence that said just exposing regular or poorer performing
students to advanced classes led to a life time of enrichment. The problem is according
to a recent study by the College Board just exposing them to the classes has
not led to a lifetime of enrichment. On the contrary it has held many back from
acquiring the skills they needed. Teachers actually teaching the classes have known
this for years. You see they were forced to either dumb down the classes,
handicapping the students who were their legitimately or to pass the kids who
weren’t despite the fact that hadn’t come anywhere close to mastering the
material.
It is even more
insidious than that in Duval county because many of the students were put in
classes that were over their head not to expose them to higher material but so
the county could get bonus points on school grades which would mask the
problems the county has. For years Ed Pratt Dannals and the school board would
say look at us we are a B district, when the truth was they were using accounting
tricks to hide the district’s problems. And all it cost us was millions of
dollars and the futures of some of our children.   
Prerequisites were in
place In Duval County Prior to 2000. Students were required to meet defined
levels of performance in courses prior to registering in Advanced Courses in
middle school, Honors and Advanced Placement Courses in high school. These
practices ensured the readiness of the student to handle the rigors of this
level of study. As a result, accelerated courses could move at the pace
required to ensure students would cover the necessary material with the depth
and breadth essential to meet the academic integrity of the respected course.
Most, if not all, prestigious private schools still follow this model as well
as most school districts in the nation. The logic is simple: past performance is
an indicator of future success. The College Board recognizes this and publishes
the AP Expectancy Tables. This illustrates the percent of students who pass
Advanced Placement Exams as a correlation of their PSAT math and verbal scores.
Parents who felt adamant that their child should be enrolled in these courses
against the recommendation of the educators could over-ride this policy.
Students also had to be recommended to sit for the administration of the exam.
This policy ensured the prudent expenditure of public funds ($80 per exam)
consistent with probability of the student receiving a passing score of 3 or
better based on course performance.
Around 2000, with former
Superintendent Dr. Joseph Wise and with former Governor Jeb Bush’s A+ school
grading scheme, common sense went out the window while school statistics were
manipulated to present the facade of high performance. This mirrors the
corporate business model in which many outside the educational profession seek
public schools to emulate. With the A+ plan, the number of students enrolled in
AP courses bolstered the school grade provided they merely sat for the exam. Dr
Joseph Wise’s decision to add many students who were ill prepared to enroll in
these courses were at best an attempt to artificially inflate school grades, or
at worse, self-serving since he had a working relationship with College Board
and sought to join them in their employment in the future.
The District’s adopted
an unrealistic policy that every child will receive a college ready diploma was
soon copied by the state as a failed attempt at social engineering. Students
with FCAT reading scores of 1 were enrolled in AP English Literature courses
and, against the recommendations of the College Board, the average 14 year old
9th grade students were enrolled in AP courses. Teachers were under
pressure to pass the students along through Grade Recovery and through the
deflation of course content. Algebra II had the same content as the Algebra I
of a decade ago. Honors Classes had less rigor that the Standard Classes of the
same time span. Add to this the Florida Virtual School in which some students
have admittedly paid people to sit for the exams and cheated by pulling up two
screens on two computers at home and looked up the answer on one while being
tested on another. The structure of delivery of accelerated course content
moved from one of intellect, emotional maturity and personal responsibility to
how can I trick the students into learning a minimum level of content while not
requiring the students to complete homework assignments, taking notes, or
studying. Research papers once comprised research cited in APA or MLA styles
were reduced to posters and dioramas.
With this, students had
little ownership in their performance and received weighted grade which were
not reflected in the body of knowledge for which they were responsible.  Consequently, it is common practice for
students to simply not show up for AP exams and faces no consequences, or sleep
through the exams since it has no bearing on their graduation or GPA.  As a result educators which teach these
classes are evaluated on the number of students who pass these exams are powerless
to control the fate of their careers. 
Students have used this to blackmail teachers by telling them they will
intentionally fail exams to have the teacher receive a poor evaluation and
possible have them fired if they do not receive a good grade in the course. It
is very hard to fail in Duval County; you really have to work at it.
Failed curricula such as
Math Investigations, CPM Math, Chemistry in the Community, Active Chemistry,
Active Physics and Readers and Writers workshops were and are still pervasive.
We will suffer the effects of these choices for years to come. Teachers asked
to select curriculum and instructional material were overrode by administrators
who never taught these courses, taught decades ago, or who don’t even hold
credentials in these disciplines. Recent evidence of this is apparent in the
selection of the Active Chemistry. An overwhelming number of chemistry
instructors rejected this curriculum only to be overridden by Ms. Leroy, who is
no longer working in this district. Prior to this CPM (College Preparatory
Math) and Math Investigations were instituted against the recommendations of an
overwhelming majority of math teachers. Until recently, Math teacher were
forced to use this curriculum until parental outrage ended these practices
Now students are not
counseled out from courses in which they do not perform well. In turn, the
educator is asked to reduce expectations to ensure success. These policies affect
the retention of educators who are forced to accept students who are ill prepared
to undertake or accept the rigors these classes. Now the educators who teach
these courses will pay for these decisions as their continued employment
depends on the performance of students on district, state, Advanced Placement,
and national common core examinations, which are due to be implemented. The tax
payers of Florida will pay to have students enrolled in AP Classes with little
probability of achieving a passing score and who will sleep through the AP exam
at a cost of $80 per test, Duval County routinely spends over a million dollars
on failed tests. I have heard administers say, “The grade a student receives in
your AP class should have no bearing on what the student receives on the AP
exam.” I have seen many gifted and talented educators leave the profession
rather than run down this rabbit hole.
The state and district cannot continue
to put students and teachers in positions where success is unlikely and then scratch
their head wondering why they failed.  The
state and the district should not be allowed to use accounting tricks to make
it appear that we are doing better than we are and the state and district should
just do better, Florida deserves better.  

4 Replies to “Shameful: How Duval County used A.P. tests to end teacher’s careers and shortchange students and continues to do so.”

  1. I once monitored AP geography exams. Everyone xmas treed the multiple and did not bother with answering the questions that required a written answer. This was during the Wise time. I believe part of a bonus for him was increasing AP classes no one had to pass from him to receive the bonus.

    1. Wise was the smartest Super we ever had. He took one long look at what was going on and engineered himself an immediate bailout. With a bonus. Genius.

  2. Look up the Times Union Article "The all pass the class but fail the test" I will never teach AP again. If I am ever forced to teach it again the student's grade will be a predictor of the AP score.

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