Sunday, July 14, 2013

AP Wrap-Up

On June 26, the College Board released a score report for the new AP biology exam that was administered this year.  It had some very startling statistics.  Here are the percentages for each score, compared with last year:

AP Grade

So you can see that there was a tremendous reduction in 5's, although over all more people passed (3 and above is passing, although hardly any college gives credit for a 3, and many only give credit for a 5).  I had thought the curve would be generous, since this was the first year of a completely new and redesigned test, but alas, that was not to be.  Instead, the CB went with an absolute standard, where you had to get so many points (78/99 unweighted) to get a 5, no curving at all.    To get a 4, you needed 64 raw points, a 3 needed 45 points, a 2 needed 26, and I guess a 1 was anything less than 26.  That seems a bit arbitrary--who knows how they came up with these breaks?--but oh well.  (Edited to add:  I've actually read a lot more from the College Board, and the average scores actually were not very different, compared to previous years' tests--but the cut-offs were very different.  Weird.  Nathan is a guinea pig again!  Story of his life, LOL.)

Here are a few of their other comments from the report:
Educators and students had reported perceptions that the multiple-choice section was easy, that it did not require content knowledge, or that it was a test of reading comprehension. None of these perceptions proved accurate. The panelists who took the exam themselves felt that the questions effectively balanced required content knowledge with fundamental quantitative, analysis, experimental design, and data interpretation skills. Student performance does not indicate that the section was easy. In fact, the results show that AP Biology students on average are not yet performing as well as college students on such tasks.

On the multiple-choice and grid-in questions, AP Biology students scored, on average, 61% correct.

By way of comparison, the mean score on the “old” AP Biology Exam (2012) multiple-choice section was 63% correct.
Five questions in a new grid-in question type required students to meet college biology’s standards for use of mathematics to solve biological problems and understand biological concepts.

The performance of AP Biology students on these questions was very low, with an average correct score of just 36%.
The low student performance, in general, on most of the free-response questions had a significant impact on this year’s AP scores.
AP Biology teachers are doing tremendous work to help their students develop the knowledge and skills essential to success in biology majors and careers, and measured by the multiple-choice, grid-in, and free-response questions on the redesigned AP Biology Exam. In many instances, AP Biology teachers are receiving students who have spent years in science classrooms that never moved beyond rapid coverage of textbook content, with very little understanding or retention of such information. The work needed to improve student learning of biology is made visible by very low scores on most of the AP Biology grid-in and free-response questions – the questions that require students to perform mathematics and describe, explain, and predict fundamental biological principles and outcomes. Many incoming AP Biology students have never been taught or required to demonstrate the quantitative, analytic, and interpretive skills now required, so struggled on the redesigned AP Biology exam.

College faculty who participated in the AP Biology standard setting agree that their own students are similarly challenged, and that the redesigned AP Biology program is the new gold standard, one that gives them confidence that AP students earning qualifying exam scores deserve placement and will be much better prepared for science majors than students who take their own colleges’ introductory biology courses. The college faculty participating on the panel sang the praises of AP teachers for teaching a course that is now an exemplar for college-level introductory biology.

The small percentage of students demonstrating performance needed for a score of 5 signals a need in particular to help students improve their performance on the grid-in and free-response questions. To earn a 5, students must learn the course content well enough to be able to perform the skills required in the grid-ins and the free-response section: when confronted with scientific data or evidence illustrative of the required course content, students must be able to “calculate,” “predict,” “justify,” “propose,” “explain,” “perform,” “specify,” “identify,” “describe,” “pose a scientific question,” and “state a hypothesis.” True understanding requires that students develop the depth of understanding required to perform such tasks with accuracy and precision.
We encourage AP Biology teachers to take heart and recognize that shifting years of students’ prior ways of learning science can take time. But what the AP teaching community has shown, year after year, is that they can meet and exceed the standards required of colleges for credit and placement. More importantly, AP Biology teachers are transforming the depth of science understanding and skills when in classrooms worldwide they shift the focus of classroom instruction away from rapid content coverage to help students learn to explain and describe their understanding of science content, and to design and conduct laboratory and mathematical tasks essential to understanding natural phenomena. If a student cannot perform such tasks, the research consistently shows that they will not retain or use the knowledge they have learned in AP Biology, and will be insufficiently prepared for much of what they will be required to do in science majors. Hats off to the AP Biology teaching community for the tremendous change you are seeking to effect in your students’ understanding of biology.
After reading that back in June, I was quite worried about how my students did!  Well, scores have been released, and I am very pleased to say that Nathan got a 4!  So did Isaac McC!  I'm very proud of them all.  It was hard to prepare for a test where we had no idea how it would actually look.  This year was definitely challenging for all of us, but the boys all worked so hard.  Most of the other kids taking this exam were juniors and seniors, whereas my kids were either a sophomore (Nathan) or freshmen (the other 3).  They did not have an honors or pre-AP biology class, other than life science 2 years ago, or a chemistry class other than BJU Physical Science year before last. 
I would love to be able to access a teacher score report for them, but that won't happen, since we're not part of an official "school".  That would give me more information on what exactly they missed, which would be helpful for me when I teach this again in another year to Luke and Caleb McC.  Oh well.  Even without that information, I have learned a lot, and now that I have access to the AP bio teacher forum on the College Board website, that has been so helpful as well.  (In fact, that is where I got this score report!) 
So the glory goes to the Lord.  None of us could have been successful this year without Him guiding us, showing me what to focus on, helping me help the boys understand the concepts, leading me to find resources, and so on.  I am so thankful!!

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