More DISD Kids Doing Well on AP Exams, But Pass Rates Are Still Terrible

When it meets later this morning, the DISD Board of Trustees will get an update on efforts to boost the number of students taking and passing Advanced Placement exams. As the graph above shows, the short answer is, a helluva lot more than there used to be. Right at a quarter of DISD's 9-12 population, and the number taking and passing the tests keeps ticking up.

But drilling down a bit into the data puts things in better perspective.

Of the nearly 16,000 AP exams DISD high schoolers took during the school year, fewer than a quarter got a passing score of 3 or more on a 1 to 5 scale. Relative high pass rates came in Spanish language, at 63.5 percent, computer science, at 53.4 percent, and the tougher of two calculus tests, at 50.2 percent.

DISD students are apparently terrible at microeconomics, with a 5.6-percent pass rate and U.S. history, at 8.4 percent. The most commonly taken test, English language and composition, had an 18.1 percent pass rate. There is also a distinct racial gap in who is taking AP classes. Nearly half of white students in DISD take at least one, whereas a fifth of blacks and a quarter of Hispanics do.

If it makes you feel better, DISD is not alone. Not even exceptionally bad. Case in point: There are 21 districts in Indiana in which students took AP exams but none passed, according to the Associated Press. But DISD falls well short of the national AP pass rate of 56 percent.

This Associated Press article cites a number of reasons for the skyrocketing number of AP tests taken and often miniscule pass rates. The idealistic answer is that educators are encouraging low-performing students to challenge themselves academically and prepare a greater number of kids to college. The cynical answer is that it helps boost prestige and national rankings, like those that DISD's magnets tend to do so well on.

No matter. It's undeniably a good thing that a greater number kids are taking and passing AP test, which implies, maybe, that more kids are leaving DISD college ready. DISD needs to continue that trend while also boosting the percentage of kids who pass.

According to the agenda packet, the next steps are to implement a AP summer training program and get biology books that are less than 10 years old. But it's gonna take a lot more -- and a lot longer -- to get AP scores where they need to be.