« Citizens Against Government Waste Name two Congressmen "Co-Porkers of the Month" | Main | Earth to Arlington County Board: That's How a Free Market Works »

The Brouhaha Over AP Exam Results in the Arlington Public Schools

One of the most repeated questions we answered when we had a booth at the Arlington County Fair concerned the assertion on the ACTA comic book that Arlington government provided ordinary services at extraordinary prices (i.e., taxes). Seems the Arlington Public Schools may have confirmed the truth in that assertion. Thanks to the reporting and editorializing in the Arlington Sun-Gazette (editor's note on page 10 in the September 15 issue, page 4 news article in the September 22 issue, and an article and editorial comment in the upcoming September 29 issue), it seems that the results of the exams have Arlington's school officials somewhat miffed. Some school officials attribute the poor results to a larger pool of students taking the AP exams while one School Board member suggests looking to Fairfax school officials "for ways to improve (Arlington's) declining" AP scores.

Arlington's high schools have fared very well in recent years in the Challenge Index developed by Jay Mathews, an education writer for the Washington Post. In a June 24 column this year, he explains: "The Challenge Index ranks high schools in college level tests, particularly Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate. It is a very simple measurement. I divide the number of AP or IB tests taken in May by the number of seniors graduating in June, and put on the Newsweek list every public school in the country that achieved what I consider a modest average of at least one test for every graduate . . . (it) ignores the scores students get on the AP or IB tests, and just counts how many tests they take. And unlike those SAT figures and other quantitative rating systems, schools with very low average family income can rank very high." An article, linked from Mathews' June article cites one critic who "said the index has spurred a 'mad rush' by 'publicity-hungry administrators'" to pack students into the AP classes. Importantly, though, Mathews points out that research shows that students benefit from taking the more difficult AP classes even if they do not pass the exams.

The brouhaha apparently broke out after school officials issued a "general press release" on September 9, and school officials were unable to provide more detailed information even though Fairfax school officials had done so on August 30. Compounding the lack of detailed results is that school officials issued a "corrected" press release a week later, September 16, and deleted the link to the "uncorrected" press release.

In transmitting the School Board's Fiscal Year 2006 adopted budget (Adobe required) to the Arlington County Board in June of this year, three of the six 'bullets' "showing measurable gains in student achievement" dealt with AP or IB test results. We are not positioned to address the issue of "mad rushes" or "publicity-seeking administrators." However, with Arlington's "cost-per-pupil" at $16,464, one expects better results than the scores presented in the September 22 issue of the Arlington Sun-Gazette (data table available only in the paper copy, however). When regional "cost-per-pupil" data for Fiscal Year 2005 was released in January of this year, Arlington spent more per-pupil than any Northern Virginia or Maryland school district, even exceeding Fall Church by more than $1,000.