Gwinnett students' AP participation up, performance down



SUWANEE — Gwinnett County Public Schools has been successful in increasing the number of students taking Advanced Placement course work and exams. Now, district officials said, the focus needs to shift to improving student performance on the tests.

In a presentation to the school board this week, Associate Superintendent Dale Robbins said the district’s average score on AP exams has dropped as the number of students taking the assessments has increased.

At a glance

The following chart shows the number of Advanced Placement exams administered in 2008, 2009 and 2010 in Gwinnett County Public Schools, Georgia and globally. The chart also shows the percentage of increase in exams administered over that three-year period. The number of exams administered does not equal the number of students who took exams, as students can take multiple exams in a year.

Location 2008 2009 2010 Increase

Gwinnett 13,324 16,040 20,155 51.2%

Georgia 92,232 104,502 118,367 28.3%

Global 2,736,445 2,929,929 3,213,225 17.4%

“We’ve had a dampening of our performance that now approximates the global average,” Robbins said.

In 2008, Gwinnett’s average score was 2.97. (That’s on a scale of 5, with 3 considered a passing score.) In 2010, the district’s average score had dropped to 2.83, close to the global average of 2.86.

It’s not uncommon for test scores to drop when more kids take the exam. In states with a high percentage of students who take the SAT, for example, the average score is typically lower than in states where only the best and brightest take the test.

Robbins noted that the school system has had a 36.4 percent increase over three years in the number of students taking AP courses and a 51.2 percent increase in the number of AP exams administered.

Most notably, the school

system has doubled the number exams taken by black and Hispanic students. From 2008 to 2010, the number of exams administered to black students increased 106.4 percent, while the number of exams administered to Hispanic students rose 94.2 percent.

Advanced Placement is a program of the College Board. By taking the college-level courses and passing the exams, students can earn college credit and qualify for additional scholarships.

In AP classrooms, the focus is not on memorizing facts and figures. Instead, students engage in intense discussions, solve problems collaboratively and learn to write clearly and persuasively, according to the College Board.

“I think what we’re doing is the right thing to encourage students to take more and more courses, but this is a very telling example of that fine balance you walk,” said Bob McClure, the school board’s vice chairman. “You want lots of kids participating, but you want to make sure they’re accomplishing at a high level, not just participating.”