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AP results are in. They’re terrible.

 I found out my students’ scores on the AP test a few days ago.

I’m still in shock.

Advanced Placement exams are scored on a 1-5 scale, with 3 considered passing at most colleges. Only two of my students earned a 3. Nearly everyone got a 2. There were a few 1s.

When I learned that I would be teaching AP English, I vowed to raise last year’s pass rate, when only one student out of 14 passed the exam. Even though at times I thought that AP English is unfair, I believed that my students and I would work hard, demonstrate grit, and eke out 3s.

It didn’t happen. Despite our work, the pass rate stayed the same.

Nationwide, 55 percent of students received a 3, 4, or 5. That means that 91 percent of my students scored in the bottom half. In other words, even my best students did no better than mediocre.

A few of my friends have reached out to offer consolation. I’ve appreciated their words. But the biggest conclusion I’m reaching is that there is a difference between being a good teacher and being an excellent teacher.

You’re a good teacher when your colleagues, students, and parents appreciate you. You work hard and you care. You design good curriculum, listen carefully, and build a safe learning environment. You go above and beyond.

You’re an excellent teacher, though, when you combine good-teacher qualities and getting results. You figure out which good-teacher qualities really matter. Your students achieve more and do better.

This year, despite getting my students to read 13 books and write 16 essays, despite assigning them online writing mentors and in-person grammar coaches, and despite providing them with Saturday study sessions and hundreds of dollars of test prep materials, I was not an excellent teacher.

Sure, there are other measures of in addition to the AP test results. I don’t believe that test scores are the only way to assess my teaching. But it’s important not to explain away the 2s. The 2s are there, and they’re many, and there’s no way around them.

In an upcoming post, I’ll have more to say about what this all means to me. But for right now, I’ll be OK to stay with the disappointment for a while. The next step will be to deal with my students’ reaction when they find out the news this week. 

7 comments

  1. Chris Mercer

    Hi Mark,

    I’m not sure what to say. I know it’s important to not explain away the two’s but it is important to look realistically at your work.

    The responsible thing to do is to acknowledge the reality that if you were to teach a group of privileged middle class students from highly educated backgrounds, your scores would almost certainly be 4’s and 5’s.

    Is the teacher in the highly privileged school an “excellent” teacher and you only a “good” teacher. I don’t think so. That’s like saying a carpenter with total access to Home Depot is better than a carpenter with no tools simply because the Home Depot carpenter creates a better project.

    You may not feel like an excellent teacher but I’m not sure if that is productive. My heart goes out to you and your students but the fact is they were extremely lucky to have you and they will be WELL prepared for college English, regardless of their AP scores.

    I’m sorry for your disappointment but you will always be a model teacher for me.

    Chris

  2. Laura

    Hi Mark,

    This is a difficult thing to figure out how to accurately process. And I sympathize with the frustration and disappointment you and your students are likely feeling.

    Like Chris said, your kids were far behind more privileged students who took AP English this year at more privileged schools. And it is true that your work did not bring them up to the same level as those student in this one year, in so far as the AP English exam can measure. And it may be true that they are actually NOT yet ready to succeed in college English. But those are not the only things that are true.

    It’s important that teachers not let the challenging circumstances become an excuse for sitting back, lowering standards and accepting failure. And it’s important that we consistently continue to improve our practices, and change them based on the needs of the kids in the room that year and that period.

    But to fully own our failures, we need to also fully own our successes. And because of YOUR teaching, your students ARE far more prepared, with more skills, more knowledge, and more awareness of the role of working hard and utilizing resources in being successful. That is true.

    You are a wonderful teacher, and I would absolutely want my children in your classroom, because I know they would LEARN.

    Laura

  3. Lois

    Laura and Chris pretty much say it all! Please don’t beat yourself up. I think you are an amazing teacher. I feel your pain and frustration. It makes me sad. I hope we get to hook up this summer. Big hug and congratulations on all that you have given your students! Lois

  4. Susan

    Do your students love English a bit more after being in your classroom? Those are the teachings that last, my friend… Sending hugs during this time of disappointment and frustration. <3

  5. Mark Isero

    Thank you for your warm words. One of the hardest things as a teacher is determining your impact. If good teaching means getting your students to love learning and to be better people in the world, then I think I’ve done all right. But if it means helping your students to gain the knowledge and skills to compete against their more privileged counterparts, then I think I need to do some more work.

    I suppose the biggest frustration right now is that I subscribe to the belief that consistent hard work leads to success. I teach this to my students. This time, though, it didn’t work out. It didn’t matter.

    But that’s also one of the biggest reasons I’ll always be a teacher. Teaching has big highs and lows, and the struggle is important, too.

  6. Dan

    Mark,

    It’s tough news to hear without a doubt. We tell ourselves that there is more to learning than what a test reveals, yet when the results comeback they remind us some unpleasant facts: We didn’t prepare our students with the right kind of wherewithal to pass a test that many of the their peers did.

    A few years ago I read: “The greatest teacher in America: Jaime Escalante.” It chronicles the events and results of Garfield High School and some of the amazing results Mr. Escalante and his students were able to achieve. There was a dark side to that success. It involved more than just the allegations of cheating. It was an environment that fostered immense pressure that drove young people to tears. It was a school that selectively moved people into AP classes based on ability not just to fill AP class numbers. It was also a system where he had free reign to kick people out of the class who were not performing. He taught AP calculus for 4 years only having a few of students pass. It wasn’t until there was a cultural and curricular overhaul to support his methods that he started to achieve results made famous in Stand and Deliver. To be clear, he did a lot of good for a lot of students; however a successful AP program is far more than just what 1 teacher can do alone. There needs to be culture and structure that supports, rewards, emphasizes, and fosters test performance.

    While the results are painful, I’d like to remind you of all your students who graduated, with positive memories of their teacher and class, and are prepared college even if a test said they could not earn some college credits for it.

    Have you visited a classroom when 90% of the class passed the AP exam? Was the cultural and structural infrastructure different?

    Buck up, you are better than you give yourself for being.

    Cheers mate,
    Dan

  7. Beth Morgan

    Mark,
    You are being too hard on yourself. I should know, i am guilty of that all of the time. It is awesome that you are so introspective and always thinking about how to do a better job. I can tell that you put so much into your work just based on what you report online. I’m sure it would be even more impressive if I saw you on a daily basis. Also, it was your first year teaching that kind of class and it’s hard to be a Superman when it’s your first time doing something. In the end I bet your students will remember how much you put into your job and that you were such a caring teacher. That’s what will
    matter the most to them I think.

    Keep your head up and enjoy your summer!
    Beth

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