AP Scores Tell a Familiar Tale


Credit: Virginia Department of Education

by James A. Bacon

There is happy news from the release of the latest College Board scores. Nearly three out of 10 of Virginia’s 2020 public high school graduates demonstrated college-level achievement on at least one AP exam, reports the Virginia Department of Education in a press release today. The percentage was down — from 28.8% last year to 28.6% this year — but only slightly. Additionally, the percentage of Virginia students earning a score of 3 or higher in the AP’s 5-point scale was 10th best in the nation, and significantly higher than the national average of 28.6%.

On the other hand, wide disparities persisted between the at which Asians (52%), whites (28.1%), Hispanics (24.3%) and blacks (9.1%) made the grade. The Northam administration has made “equity” the top educational priority of his administration, but Superintendent of Public Education James Lane acknowledged, “There are still wide disparities in participation in outcomes when we compare data for different student groups.”

Another way of slicing the data is to look at the average score for all exams, which the College Board makes available online tot he public. By that metric, we get these averages broken down by race/ethnicity for Virginia’s major demographic groups:

There is seeming good news here. The average of AP scores actually inched higher in 2020. And thanks to an improvement in average scores by blacks and a dip by whites, the so-called equity gap shrank. So, why didn’t VDOE trumpet that result?

I can’t speak for VDOE but I can speculate. One factor affecting average scores is the percentage of the school population taking the AP exams. Larger percentages tend to score lower because more academically marginal students are being tested. Smaller percentages mean the opposite. Here’s how the number of students who tested breaks down.

Thus, we can see that the number of Virginia students taking AP exams dropped 6.55% overall. It dropped the most for black students, followed closely by Hispanic students, and significantly for white students also. (Whites saw a large drop in the percentage who tested and a decline in average test scores, a pretty miserable performance all around.) Thus, any overall improvement in AP test  performance is illusory, and VDOE was honest enough to not try to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes.

Asian students far out-perform all other groups. The degree to which they excel is understated in these numbers because a much higher percentage of Asian students take AP exams than so for any other group. Asians dig deeper into their academic bench, so to speak, yet they still get higher average scores.

The idea that we hear increasingly from our woke educational establishment, that public schools are a “white supremacist” system, is utterly absurd. Based on academic achievement, it would be more accurate to call it an “Asian supremacist” system. But, of course, that would be absurd as well. Asians do better because they have adapted better to the system, not because it was designed to maintain their superiority or anybody else’s.

Asian-Americans are the educational-achievement standard bearers in Virginia, and the rest of the United States. Everyone should be emulating them. Watering down standards and in the name of equity doesn’t lift anyone up. It only tears people down.

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