Baltimore students lag on taking placement tests

THE EDUCATION BEAT

January 31, 1995|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,Abell FoundationSun Staff Writer

Everyone talks about the Scholastic Assessment Test, but the best admission ticket to America's most demanding colleges and universities is the less well-known Advanced Placement Examination.

Sponsored by the College Board and administered by the Educational Testing Service (the same folks who bring us the SAT), the Advanced Placement Examination, or AP, allows students to earn college credit by proving that they've mastered advanced material in everything from Latin to calculus.

"If you're not prepared for the AP, you're not prepared for college," Wade Curry, director of the examination, said yesterday.

Two recent reports from the state Education Department and the Abell Foundation in Baltimore show good news and bad about the AP.

On the positive side: More Maryland students are taking the tests, and the participation rate of black students is increasing faster than that of all AP takers. Scores of the 8,000 Marylanders who struggled through 12,300 AP exams last year were higher than the national average, and minority scores increased significantly over 1993.

The results show Marylanders do best in art history, economics, English and French literature, physics, French and Latin. They do less well against counterparts nationally in German, calculus and Spanish.

The bad news comes from the Abell report, which shows that in Baltimore City, only Poly, City, Western and the School for the Arts are participating. (Three AP tests were taken last year at Patterson.) Only 160 AP exams were taken by 125 students in the city last year, compared with 213 exams taken by 132 students at a single private school, Gilman.

Even Poly's participation declined by five students last year, to 13 students who took 17 exams.

Mr. Curry praised Baltimore County, where students at all but the vocational-technical high schools are taking the AP. But if there are world-class academic students at Dunbar (which draws students citywide) or 12 neighborhood and vocational high schools in Baltimore, none is taking the examination that would prove it.

"A number of cities are working to strengthen their programs," said Mr. Curry, who said the challenge "isn't so much to change the curriculum as to focus on college-level thinking skills."

Three years ago, the College Board was set to work with the city on improving its AP participation, Mr. Curry said, but the effort was sidelined by a change in superintendents.

"Our offer is still open," he said.

"Again," concludes the Abell report, "Baltimore City fails to be competitive."

On teaching teachers

One school of thought is that teachers need a thorough grounding in child psychology, learning theories and instructional methods before they're ready to face the little ones in a classroom.

The other is the sink-or-swim school. It holds that teachers can learn on the job, with only a minimum of preteaching training and with monitoring and help as they feel their way along the slippery slope of classroom instruction.

One of the major proponents of the former approach, Linda Darling-Hammond, of Columbia University Teachers College, was in town late last week to address a meeting of the teacher education establishment.

Most of the world's industrial nations have better-prepared teachers than those in the United States, she told an audience at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Then she cut quickly to the mantra of urban educators such as Baltimore schools Superintendent Walter G. Amprey: All children can learn.

"It's hard to believe that all students can learn if you don't have the tools to teach all children," said Dr. Darling-Hammond.

In Dr. Darling-Hammond's audience were several representatives of alternative teaching programs that don't require the rigorous preparation she advocates. At least three are represented in Baltimore City, one that allows people to shift careers to teaching and one that places returned Peace Corps volunteers in the classroom.

A third, Teach for America, which recruits recent college graduates to inner-city classrooms after a minimum of summer preparation, was castigated by Dr. Darling-Hammond in an essay last year in a respected education journal.

She has since been denounced, most recently in an article in last week's New Republic, as a tool of the teacher education establishment.

What Dr. Darling-Hammond doesn't seem to take into account is the experience, enthusiasm and vigor that many of the teachers in alternative programs bring to their jobs. Returned Peace Corps volunteers, military people changing careers and idealistic young Teach for America corps members often have a flair that is missing in traditionally trained teachers.

One of the state's education deans was overheard saying to another Friday afternoon: "These alternative people all seem to be in the toughest schools."

There may be good reason for it.

WHO'S TAKING ADVANCED PLACEMENT TESTS?

Advanced Placement (AP) tests are national exams that allow students taking advanced work in high school to qualify for college credit. The Abell Foundation has been studying the extent to which students in different school systems participate in the AP program.

High schools .. .. .. .. .. Enrollment .. No. of students .. No. of AP

.. .. .. .. ... .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . .. taking AP tests .. tests taken

Baltimore City ... .. .. .. ... 22,689 .. .. .. .. 125 .. .. .. .. . 160

Baltimore County . .. .. .. ... 24,450 .. .. .. .. 704 .. .. .. .. 1,045

4 independent schools .. .. .. . 2,304 .. .. .. .. 444 .. .. .. .. . 773

(Bryn Mawr, Calvert Hall,

Gilman, McDonogh)

District of Columbia ... .. ... 15,484 .. .. .. .. 613 .. .. .. .. . 839

Philadelphia .. .. .. .. .. ... 59,893 .. .. .. .. 580 .. .. .. .. . 838

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