July 12, 2009

My useful new VDARE.com column on Advanced Placement testing

Here's an excerpt from my new VDARE.com column, which is based on a big spreadsheet I built of 2008 Advanced Placement Test results, and has lots of graphs (click on this one to make it readable -- this one shows something I've never seen before: What percentile does your score rank not out of just the kids who took that AP test, but out of all the 4.3 million kids in America who are the same age as you? As you can see in this graph that starts at the 90th percentile with passing scores in green, orange, and red, a remarkably small percentage passes any single AP test.)

Last week, all across America, high school students who took Advanced Placement (AP) tests in May began receiving their scores in the mail.

So now is a good time to take an in-depth look at this rite of passage. It’s grown remarkably popular. The number of AP tests taken rose from one million in 1998 to approaching 2.7 million in 2008.

This article serves both parents wondering what their kids’ AP test strategy should look like, and citizens wanting to learn more about testing so they can evaluate Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s anti-objective examination decision in the Ricci case. (Her Senate hearings begin Monday). ...

Although the College Board is responsible for both the Advanced Placement tests and the much-denounced SAT, the APs have, so far, largely escaped criticism for "disparate impact:” i.e. Non-Asian Minorities doing badly. That’s mostly because few have bothered to look as rigorously at the numbers as we’ll do here.

If you are wondering how your kid’s scores from last May compare to whole population, rest assured that a 3 will put him or her in the top 5 percent of the country on any test and in the top 1 percent on many tests.

Above is my graph "2008 AP Scores by Percentile" (click on it to make it big enough to read) For example, U.S. History (the third bar down) is the most widely attempted AP test. Yet, it’s not even tried by 92 percent of the 4.3 million kids in each year’s age cohort. And less than half of those eight percent who try it succeeds in passing it. (By the way, you only get to take each AP test once in a lifetime.)

The most widely passed test in 2008 was English Literature, with 189,000 young people scoring 3s or higher. That sounds good; however, 189,000 is merely 4.4 percent of the relevant population.

As you may have noticed by now, I’m not the most happy-clappy commentator when it comes to evaluating the intellectual capabilities of today’s youth. Yet, even I have to concede that it wouldn’t be impossible to, say, double that 4.4 percent passing rate on English Lit. The key step would be for whites in the middle of the country to imitate Asians on the coasts (currently, Asians take three times as many AP tests per capita as do whites): become more confident about signing up for AP tests and more industrious in studying for them. Asians aren’t exceptionally great at English Lit—but, currently, 9.7 percent of Asians pass that AP versus only 5.4 percent of whites.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Billare said...

There's another program in the United States called the International Baccalaureate program. To receive the diploma the program confers, one has to pass a number of cumulative tests that are relatively easier than AP tests. In any case, the recommended IB history curriculum in those schools is what produces the high number of students taking the AP World History and AP Human Geography, exams that are taken opportunistically due to the higher caliber of student in IB programs. In my group Human Geography was regarded as a test for the relatively slow. For me, it went, World History -> European History -> American History -> 19th and 20th Century History. Also note that the history exams don't require any sort of higher logic or math skills.

testing99 said...

It's probably inevitable that College Admissions, scholarships, and everything else academic be quota-ized, because there is so much political patronage to be gained from it. Example: there is a net gain to take scholarships and admissions away from say, White Boys and give them to White Girls, Blacks and Hispanics of either sex, and Lesbians and Gays.

This has been, the winning electoral spoils combination across the West, and even "Conservative" coalitions dare not challenge the perceived agreements on spoils division.

What, parents of White boys would complain? So what, they didn't vote for Obama anyway. He's a Chicago pol, he rewards his backers and punishes his enemies.

Anonymous said...

"...and two kids out of every 300 get a 5 on the fearsome Calculus BC exam."

I got a 4 on Calculus BC in the early 90s. What can I say, it was a tough test. Anyone who got a 5 (and a post like this is sure to bring them out in the comments) has my respect.

The composition of our BC class affirmed racial stereotypes with greater persuasive force than any banned Disney cartoon ever could. Oh, and some of those Asian girls were cute too. Memories...

By the way, I was scandalized to learn from your article that there is an Environmental Science AP test now. And what could they possibly ask on the Human Geography test? It almost sounds like the title of Mr. Cavalli-Sforza's magnum opus, though I'm sure that that book would not help one prepare for that exam.

Anonymous said...

I went to an elite public magnet school that refused to have AP classes in the humanities . AP courses require you to teach towards the test. In math and science, this isn't an issue because they would teach that regardless. However, AP courses in the humanities ramshackle teachers into a particular curriculum.

TCO said...

I got 5s on Chemistry, Biology, Calc BC, and English (don't remember there being two flavors back in the day). Got 4s on Physics C (mech) and Art History. Got a 2 on Physics C E&M.

All of those were classes where I had taken the course except Physics (where I had a non-calc based course, school did not offer AP Phys.) and I just took it on a lark. Mechanics was pretty easy since anyone knowing calc and doing mechanics just strains to take the derivative for velocity. They did not cover rotational mechanics in regular phys and did on the exam, but the equations are pretty similar (F=ma has a rotational analog). Just basically looked at some old tests, the night before. Of course E&M destroyed me since I did not have 3rd semester calculus or diffeqs and had no good concept of integrating charges over surfaces and the like. Adding resitors is not a good analog.

I should have taken a shot at government or history (got an 800 on the acheivement test)...but I had not taken the courses (even though offered at my school...schedule conflicts)...so figured it would not come out good. I think I remember US History for having a tough essay component in thought composition, not just content dump). And had no clue what USGov would be like since it was new to my school to have an AP.

[/geeky bragging]

This was all in early 80s (granted Fairfax County). I guess things have grown more. But still sounds like pretty similar programs.

Reticent Man said...

I took 8 in 1998-99. Got a 5 in calc BC, my only 3 was english. I got a 4 on both econs without ever taking an econ class, just bought a big study guide.

Carnegie Mellon let me have credit for linear algebra and diff-eq classes that I took in high school without an AP test. So I got 9 class credits going into freshman year. 4 years later I failed my last class that I needed to graduate. I got to walk and receive an empty diploma pending summer school. One of my buddies said I was the only guy to enter college as a sophomore and graduate as a junior.

Nice article, nothing groundbreaking, but interesting information.

TCO said...

Nony (4): The English test (at least in early 80s) seemed to cover pretty common Lit concepts. and the US History had a big emphasis on logical arguments and covered arguably pretty definable scope. Would think that there is little lost in any of those courses (or even World History) in using the standard curriculum. And probably more benefit than harm in making sure mainstream stuff gets covered. Plus teachers can and usually do, do a little extra on stuff they care about.

I actually wish they had more standardized curricula everywhere. I mean look at calculus. you can use a text from the 40s and it works fine. And the few times in college when I saw generic assessment tests used as finals, they were tough and seemed to cover stuff we should know.

Nick said...

Of course, the usefulness of AP tests is something of a red herring, because the real value of them is to encourage AP classes where the smart kids hide far away from the dullards. Lord knows that's the reason I took them, as did all of my friends. Plenty of dummies still slip through, but they don't dominate. Except, of course, in AP Spanish, which was loaded with dregs of the local Mexican population.

To me it seems like a disturbing number fail, particularly the soft tests. I mean look: 37~ percent get a 1 on the Biology test? That was the joke test. Surely a disproportionate number of dummies and NAMs took this one, but still. For the history, psychology and biology tests only a passing familiarity with the subject seemed necessary to get a 3. I assume the math-oriented material is tougher, though I still got a 3 on the chemistry test despite hilariously botching it and surely getting by on partial credit alone. (No doubt my arithmetic was flawless . . .) If you're getting a 1 on the softer tests you got no business going to college. Save those 86 bucks and use those three hours working at some blue collar job.

All things considered, I think we should certainly keep AP tests, but not expand them or encourage people to take them. This is pure identity politics: these classes are for my younger nerd brethren, but not for the sorts who annoy them. I don't give a damn about college credit, but we've got to save my buddies!

Anonymous said...

The article writes from the perspective of a "skinflint" parent (your top-10 favorite word) and not that of the kid.

Unless a family is truly economically hard-up it's not worth it (one can simply overcredit in college, which IMO is easier.)

Also, most kids don't have the brainpower to pick up a study guide and pass the AP (you're assuming kid with 130+ IQ, good memory and temperament. The 115s can't do it, I betcha.)

wake up said...

our education system is not producing american minds of the quality of past eras..for the simple reason that the system is anti american to the core...

triple the test taking regimen for midwestern students? encourage them to behave like asians? you just don't get it steve.......

turning the u.s.a. school system into a japan style testing mill is not the damn answer .....mimicking taiwan or china or singapore test results is not the damn answer....

encouraging whites to behave like asians is so damn wrong headed that it's off the chart.....

you really do not understand the key ingredient of america and so you would apparently snuff it out the first chance you get.......straight a students are not the key ingredient of america... they never have been....

Former AP Teacher said...

Also note that the history exams don't require any sort of higher logic or math skills.

I disagree here. The European History exam's document based essay, worth a substantial portion of the overall test, is nearly always based upon a topic so obscure it is never intended that the student will know much about it in detail. Rather, the entire point is to construct an analytical essay using only the evidence at hand, so the memorization of facts that is the key to the multiple choice section is of little use here. The essay is best thought of as building a case like a lawyer, and so it requires a fair amount of verbal logic. It's certainly harder than the AP US DBQ, which requires outside information and thus is a little easier to skirt around the document analysis.

I went to an elite public magnet school that refused to have AP classes in the humanities . AP courses require you to teach towards the test. In math and science, this isn't an issue because they would teach that regardless. However, AP courses in the humanities ramshackle teachers into a particular curriculum.

Before leaving, disgusted and disillusioned, I taught for six years, a substantial portion of it AP (US History, US Gov, Comp Gov, and lots of European History). It's the only reason I stayed in education as long as I did. There is truth to the statement about teaching to the test, and as Steve has pointed out in previous posts on AP, the history curriculum has slowly squeezed out topics of interest to many male students. There is virtually no military history at ALL on the history exams--it's as if the Civil War or WWII were board games. To be fair, College Board adapts its curricula to fit what is taught in colleges typically, so in those regards the test is a fair representation--there are few specialties as loathed in academia as military history. On the other hand, however, the European History curriculum, especially culturally, is a good bit better than what you'd get at many colleges--it's essentially a vast liberal arts class where learning the key events and ideas of Western Civilization is the goal, not an accident, and it's quite possible to get this material taught in a way other than as a vast catalog of Western crimes.

jody said...

great article. enjoyed it a lot.

one of my best friends got a 5 on the calculus BC exam in 1994.

without using a calculator.

true story: after getting his degree in mathematics, he became a high school teacher. his first job was in philadelphia (!) where he lasted exactly one year in a majority black high school. he then moved back to pittsburgh where he teaches math and coaches the swim team at a suburban high school.

i generally feel like a low IQ idiot when i ask him to explain advanced topics in mathematics to me. foundation and theory of math stuff. it is hilarious listening to his stories about considering whether to lecture the black kids about algebra theory.

Dog of Justice said...

Steve, you can actually retake AP tests. I did so for Physics C: Mechanics after getting a 4 the first time around, and a quick Google tells me that the policy hasn't changed.

SKT said...

I went to a very average suburban public school in Ohio, where the teachers discouraged us from taking AP tests and bragged about not "teaching for the exam" during AP classes. That said, I got a 4 on AP U.S. history. I also got a 5 on Calculus BC, even though I never took it. My school only offered first year calculus. But someone told me that you can study a few additional topics on your own (like series) and be prepared for the BC test.

IMO, there isn't a huge advantage to taking a ton of AP tests. If you do, it'll put you into Sophomore level classes when you come into college. You may be at a relative disadvantage when it comes to GPA and such. If you took the AP class, sometimes its better to take the entry level college course to get an easy "A".

Anonymous said...

I took 9 AP classes and 11 total AP tests. I have to say there was a certain seriousness in the AP classes that I didn't see in my other classes. Everyone knew that no amount of brown-nosing would help them pass the test. Also, several teachers offered incentives for doing well on the test, i.e. if you get a 5 you get an A. Students seemed to be more interested in learning the material rather than just getting by.

Steve understates the potential impact of AP credit, though. My college (which was the #1 ranked public university the year I matriculated) accepted up to 60 AP/college-equivalent credits out of 120 required for graduation. Thanks to my APs and a couple of other college-credit courses I took, I maxed out on this requirement and entered basically as a junior. If I wanted to, I could have graduated in two years with a normal course load. Of course, this was before tuition started spiraling out of control. My entire four-year education cost substantially less (in-state) than one year of out-of-state tuition today - probably even if you adjusted for inflation. If I had been paying ten to twenty thousand or more a year, I would have certainly been more eager to get my diploma and get out of there. So $1000 for APs (and in my case, the school paid all the AP fees), would be a great deal compared to what you would expect to pay for the same classes even in a public university today.

meep said...

No, from the point of view of the kid, it still makes sense to take the AP classes. Between AP and a few other tricks [credit by final exam, retroactive credit by passing part 2 of 2-part course, placement exams], I had enough credit to reduce my college years by 1... but it wasn't in my interest to leave college early as I was essentially getting paid for 4 years to go to college [all money from scholarships went straight to my pocket after tuition and fees were taken out.]

So I took graduate-level courses, and courses in stuff I was interested in, but did nothing towards my degree. Most of the AP tests I took were in my majors [Physics and Math], so I wasn't wasting time with the boring freshman intro classes.

I did try to retake a subject I knew well [but no AP test for] and got kicked out by the prof. That was the benefit of being in a "connected" high school -- the prof's husband taught me math in high school and told her to kick me up to the next class, which she did.

But absent having those sorts of connections, AP exams are really helpful. There are still plenty of "easy A" courses to be had on campus. Don't waste your time on stuff you already know.

Anonymous said...

Got 5's in Physics C E&M in Physics C Mechanics when I was in 10th grade, what percentile does that put me in?

Anonymous said...

From the VDARE article:

"It’s usually assumed that a 3 is a "passing score," although tougher colleges now often require a 4. At the stratospheric level, MIT accepts only 5s, and Caltech doesn’t give advanced placement at all, because its intro courses are so advanced."

In the old days the Caltech exams were mailed out over the summer to incoming students -- all honor code of course. They were much harder than their AP equivalents! I remember meeting with Tom Apostol (the author of the famous Calculus I and II texts) to learn that I was one of a handful of freshmen who had placed out of the first two years of math. (Up to and including multivariable caculus, ODEs, PDEs, linear algebra, probability and statistics.)

"Asians have been taking formal tests since Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty instituted the imperial civil service exam for would-be mandarins in 605 A.D. They’ve grown accustomed to them.

This suggests that white kids could profit from emulating Asians. Don’t be so afraid to take an AP test."

Steve, can you expand on your HBD interpretation of this? Is the genetic predisposition for test taking or cognitive ability? :-)

Anonymous said...

Steve, enrollment in AP class is generally limited, and teachers recommendation are required to enroll in it. most teachers will only encourage the students that may pass to enroll in it, therefore, it is not a matter of encouraging more white student to take AP classes, since the pool of able student from Asian student body is larger. The same failure rate tell us that these teacher are generally right about their students' ability.

Anonymous said...

The point of AP is to save time and money. Why waste a year in college paying for calculus if you can learn it and pass a test? You can save your money to take higher level classes and get done faster.

Sideways said...

I went to an elite public magnet school that refused to have AP classes in the humanities . AP courses require you to teach towards the test. In math and science, this isn't an issue because they would teach that regardless.

Not entirely true. Biology, at least, is so big and contains so many barely connected fields that you can easily have an advanced bio class that doesn't prepare students for part of the AP test.

My biology teacher was a macro nut and did not teach certain things students would need to know to get high scores on the AP test (biochemish stuff). He did, however, give (free) private/group lessons on the uncovered material by request. A very small number of students took him up on it.

Anonymous said...

Consider yourself lucky your country even has Advanced Placement testing (I don't even know what this means). In Canada it's straight grades for university admission, there is no SAT. 10-15% of non-math classes are subjectively evaluated, meaning you're marked on attitude, sucking up to the teacher, being a girl, etc. It's perverse; our universities are filled with dummies, 80% of the cost of their education on the public dime. The new thing is giving a masters without a BA to mature students, usually women and Indians.

Argent Paladin said...

I'm a bit surprised that over 97% of students don't take the Spanish Language exam. Is that because of a lack of ambition, not going to college or the fact that many native Spanish-speakers in America have never had reading Spanish at a high school level? In other words, could your average Mexican-born LA high school student get a 3 or 4 on the Spanish AP?
I got about 30 credits (6 classes) credit at Stanford with AP, but you cannot (at least at the time) get out of requirements with AP credit, so it really didn't matter much. I did graduate early though and had sophmore standing by winter of my freshman year.
I wish I had taken more APs (I only took exams after taking an AP class). I am actually considering taking some now, just as an incentive to work on languages on my own, such as Italian.

Argent Paladin said...

I also want to agree that AP classes were a welcome refuge from the other classes. Although my school wasn't tracked, I ended up taking Honors Biology, AP English, AP Calculus, Honors Physics and AP History (as well as 4 years of Latin). This allowed me to mainly be in classes with smart, motivated students, even though I was at a public school with a considerable NAM population and fairly high dropout rate.
Another bonus was that in calculating GPA, honors and AP classes received an extra grade point.

Steve Sailer said...

The College Board may have "suspended" giving the Italian test after 2009, so you should check that out. The Japanese test was taken even fewer times in 2008, but it's not immediately on the chopping block.

Gc said...

Matt Taibbi`s blog is well worth to check out. As is his article in the Rolling Stone magazine about the Goldman Sachs, which is not in online yet (but at least some poor quality copies are).

PeterW said...

Don't forget that some schools, particularly in Texas, force all students in AP classes to take the test. So some of the test-takers are unwilling and will artificially bring down the test-taking average.

Truth said...

"one of my best friends got a 5 on the calculus BC exam in 1994.

without using a calculator.

true story: after getting his degree in mathematics, he became a high school teacher."

Great; another certified genius making $35,000 a year

"it is hilarious listening to his stories about considering whether to lecture the black kids about algebra theory."

Probably not nearly as funny as him showing his pay stub to a mortgage loan officer at his local bank.

Anonymous said...

AP placement can be dangerous at top schools. Very often the college intro course is more useful and rigorous than the high school equivalent. Having lectured at several top 20 USNews universities, I met many students who had placed out of intro this or that (usually calc, econ or one of the sciences) only to get killed in the upper class courses.

TCO said...

It's interesting thinking about what tests they might add next. Would be great if they added 3rd semester calc and diffeqs. There are a fair fraction of kids taking calc as pre seniors. And just the presence of the test has an encouraging effect on schools to create the courses.

jody said...

"Great; another certified genius making $35,000 a year"

i don't really know what he makes. i do know that he is basically a christian nutjob and went to a christian college. after getting his degree he saw it as his duty to serve underpriviledged black americans, something that millions of white americans are doing every single day.

after trying to help them, and having them start fights in class basically every single day, he decided to move on.

this is exactly what my cousin does, a woman who went to the university of virginia on a full scholarship as a math major, then got a graduate degree from columbia, then decided to work for teach for america.

all she does, all day long, is try to help poor black americans. the federal government pays her $75,000 a year to put up with how much trouble black kids actually cause in the classroom. wherever the worst schools are, wherever the test scores are the lowest, that's where they send her. new york city, philadelphia, baltimore. my cousin, who is a friendly and nice person, puts up with their insults and harassment daily. the black kids don't want to learn, but she won't give up on them.

"Probably not nearly as funny as him showing his pay stub to a mortgage loan officer at his local bank."

at 31 years old, he makes enough money to outright own a 2400 square foot house in suburban pennsylvania, where prices are low and the local school district has either a crippling, or refreshing, lack of diversity, depending on whether you are viewing it as a white liberal or as a normal person.

Anonymous said...

America's shambling multi-racial experiment only works through the largely involuntary input of white taxpayers and the more voluntary input of whites prepared to maintain the system out of some degree of idealism. i.e. earning at a lower rate than they could in the private sector.

If Truth's hard nosed ethics were fully applied then the experiment would fail very quickly.

XCL said...

"I got a 4 on Calculus BC in the early 90s. What can I say, it was a tough test. Anyone who got a 5 (and a post like this is sure to bring them out in the comments) has my respect."

If you look at only people who actually took the Calc BC test, over 40% got a 5, which proves that takers are merely being self selected.

Truth said...

"all she does, all day long, is try to help poor black americans. the federal government pays her $75,000 a year ..."

Great, she's altruistic enough to make double the salary of her peers. I say we nominate her for sainthood now!

Anonymous said...

Steve demonstrates the AP exam (as well as the New Haven, CT firefighter's exam) are "hatexams". But the hate goes deeper than objective standards and and 3rd party testing.

Numbers, percentages and the very concept of mathematical ordinality that "ranks" something "higher" or "better" than something else are intrinsically hateful. These are amoral tools of deceit are manipulated by haters to justify their continued oppression of the traditionally downtrodden.

The only reality to be found in the color of our skin and justice has to be premised upon this ultimate truth. I for one am glad that we have a wise Latina who sees through the evil white male's slight of hand in using "objective standards", "facts" and "tests" to justify their disproportionate control of power.

Todo por la Raza, Nada afuera la Raza! Viva La Sotomayor!

Anonymous said...

I for one am glad that we have a wise Latina who sees through the evil white male's slight of hand in using "objective standards", "facts" and "tests" to justify their disproportionate control of power.


Lumped together are they not what used to be known as the white man's trick knowledge?

Wise words indeed from that colossus that bestrides our culture - the Wu Tang Clan.