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Why Do Some AISD Schools Have High Dual Credit Pass Rates But Low AP Scores?

Audrey McGlinchy
The ACC Highland Campus offers dual credit classes to Austin ISD students.

At some schools in Austin ISD, most students who take Advanced Placement tests fail those exams. But students at the same schools are passing dual credit classes, college courses taught through Austin Community College. 

Travis High School in South Austin is one of those schools. Students can take a variety of AP courses in English, history, math and science. But in the 2014-2015 school year, very few students passed those AP tests. Out of the 70 students who took the the AP English Language exam, just nine students passed; seven of 52 students who took the AP U.S. History test passed – a 13 percent pass rate for both. 

"In order to teach and AP class you have to fight to teach it. If you wanted to teach it, you really wanted to teach it."

When it comes to dual credit courses, Travis High School students are much more successful. Last year, 90 percent of students successfully completed those college courses. The school district recently made Travis High School an early college high school, so students can take more courses at ACC for college credit and even possibly earn their associate's degree while in high school. Since Austin ISD introduced the early college program, the number of students taking dual credit more than tripled from the previous year. 

But, why is there a disparity in success between AP test takers and students who take dual credit?

Edmund Oropez with Austin ISD says it can be difficult to find qualified AP teachers to teach in some East Austin schools, including Eastside Memorial and Lanier High Schools. 

“A lot of it is dependent on teaching training in those Advanced Placement classes," Oropez says. "And when we look at the schools you cited, there’s been teacher turnover in some of the areas. We need to retrain the current ones that go through.”

Oropez says AP teachers also feel a lot of pressure to have their students succeed, a sentiment with which Lou Kuhn, an AP Calculus teacher at Crockett High School, agrees. 

“In order to teach and AP class you have to fight to teach it. If you wanted to teach it, you really wanted to teach it," Kuhn says. "You're teaching a college level class. All the AP teachers I know, you put more pressure on yourself because you have more advanced math students who are going to ask more advanced questions. And I want to have the answer."

AP Computer Science is a particularly difficult class to staff. Only three AISD high schools even offer the AP class, which is why the district relies on dual enrollment classes with UT Austin’s OnRampsprogram. Classes are taught by a college professor and high school teacher and students can earn UT-Austin college credit and high school credit.

“We know we’re going to have a certified professor that’s an expert in that area that can teach our kids, and we’re showing a lot of success moving in that direction," Oropez says about the program.

But not everyone thinks the disparity between AP and dual credit success just has to do with access to quality teachers.

Some people worry dual credit classes aren’t always as rigorous as AP classes. They’re concerned there’s no measurement—like a standardized, end-of-year test—to gauge if a student taking dual enrollment actually deserves the college credit they earn. Texas Association of Business CEO Bill Hammond is one of those people.

“If a teacher has 25 kids in the class, they’re not going to fail 80 percent, which is effectively what’s happening with an AP course," Hammond says. "So, all these kids are passing and then they’re going on to a two or four-year school and finding they don’t count for their major or finding they don’t count at all in terms of building a foundation for them to be successful in the post-secondary sitting.”

But, while some people question the rigor of dual credit, others question whether it’s good to place all of a student’s value in a one-time test to prove they are prepared. 

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