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An experiment on the predictability of achievement

 I’ve written before about the predictability of student achievement. The achievement gap is big and sinister, and the reason I’m a teacher is to mess with it, to help students do something they didn’t think was possible.

Last year, 8 percent of students passed the AP Literature and Composition exam. The highest pass rate ever for our school was 62 percent, in 2008.

When I first was assigned the course, I was unclear about what my goal should be. I’m still unsure. Would I be happy if 50 percent passed? That’d be much higher than last year, but it still would mean a failure rate of 50 percent. I say no. A pass rate of 100 percent would be nice (and cause for the sequel to Stand and Deliver), but I’m no Jaime Escalante. What about 67 percent, a record for our school? That seems just right.

Note: That goal comes out of nowhere. Because this is my first time teaching the class, I don’t have a score to improve. Besides, a goal of 67 percent doesn’t take into consideration the students’ likelihood of passing the exam before taking AP English. Perhaps all of them, with a different teacher, could pass the test, and I’m actually lowering their chances.

So there needs to be a baseline. On Monday, students their first full-length multiple-choice section, which accounts for 45 percent of the overall AP score. After consulting College Board, I looked at my students’ results and sorted them into three categories — green, yellow, and red — based on their current likelihood of passing. (If you want to know more about how I determined these categories, let me know.)

Of my students, 11, or 48 percent, were in the green category.

So now some questions arise:

  1. Will those 11 students end up passing the exam in May? (I hope so!)
  2. If #1 is true, then I need five more students to get to my 67 percent goal. Can I do that? Or is predictability too strong (or am I ineffective)?
  3. What’s the best way to make sure #2 happens? What does it take?
  4. What about the other seven students, particularly the five who scored really low? (One got 4/55 correct; another got 8/55.) Is it impossible for them to pass?
I have many ideas, and I’m certainly willing to work hard (and so are my students), but part of this inquiry is to figure out which strategies work best to disrupt the achievement gap. After all, we don’t have too much more time left. 

Please share your brilliant insights!