A year ago I laid out a vision for my first five years of Calculus. We're now over halfway, how are we doing? Pushing the program forward is still a very slow process, but there are appreciable gains happening.
For those of you unfamiliar, for many years our program did not register on the AP radar at all. Kids would take the exam but nothing would happen. By the end of my first five years, I wanted to make the passing rate appreciable and predictable.
A passing rate exists, but is far from appreciable. A couple kids are starting to break through. The HUGE news here is the gains in the mid ground. There finally appears to be some evidence that my kids are able to clear the biggest hurdle, registering on the scale. The 1 designation is officially "no recommendation." All of these 2s are officially "possibly qualified" which was previously unthinkable to have so many show up here. The frustrating part, if you know anything about AP scales, is that means 50% of my exam takers were within a couple questions of passing.
Let's qualify this performance a bit. Not all of my students take the exam. The share of non-takers in these results:
Once we hit a point where passing is the expectation and not a surprise, I will be a bit more demanding about taking it. At the moment my priorities with exam takers are making sure they demonstrated some proficiency that could indicate success. Cost is also a factor for my students. I'm not comfortable forcing an exam fee out of a student who really doesn't need it.
Where are the gains coming from? I made significant investments in reinventing the curriculum. Most notably, students learn the major concepts early and spiral back on them through the year. It allows us to cover the depth of material more efficiently. I made a point of emphasis to focus on abstract matters more (derivatives where f(x) and g(x) are defined symbolically, for example). After the release of the FRQ I thought it'd come from this section. For the first time, all six questions were within the scope of what we covered well. Turns out, multiple choice finally had its day:
Our FRQ average remains the same (below 10/54, global average is about 20/54). Multiple Choice was a huge surprise, the average increased 8 pts. year over year (20/54) and is trending towards striking distance of the global (29/54). When dissected by question category, my students were pinging right at average on certain topics. While the top quarters are still pretty sparsely populated, raising the floor is the first indicator that bigger gains are on the way. On FRQ we are slowly squeezing out all the bottom tier performance.
What is the health of the overall program? Solid. Kids remain enthusiastic about enrolling in AP Calculus. The significant rise in the middle of our results will hopefully convince more that doing well on a scary AP exam is within their grasp.
Next year we will also be able to offer smaller class environments to our Calculus groups. This could help raise the number of eventual exam takers as well.
The existence of a "middle class" of scores was very encouraging. The hurdle to getting a registered score of any sort is the hardest part of the exam for our kids. Once you have a 2, climbing the ladder only requires a few additional questions. I have clearly misunderstood how I approach FRQs. Last year I increased student exposure to these kinds of questions. The feedback at the end of the year indicated that they wanted more. I also have not been strong on enforcing answer standards. It's probably a safe assumption that some amount of credit was left on the table due to notation and statement errors. The large number of responses landing in the middle quartiles of the FRQ show that students are doing really well on a couple questions, and really poorly on the rest. They are not consistently strong in enough topics.
I haven't finalized my curriculum for next year yet, but most of my notes involved circling things and writing MORE next to it. The essentials were there, kids seem to be lacking the reps. Exam preparation went well last year, many students answered the call of what it takes to get ready for something like this. Attitudes are definitely overall positive and all the kids give the class two thumbs up, and soon I feel like that success can be demonstrated on paper. If anything, BC is performing ahead of predictions. I thought I'd have 5 students for the inaugural section and wound up with 15.
And yes, the AP Exam is just an exam. It is not the most important aspect of our program (that's arguably laser tag night), but as an instructor it's nice to have an independent way of validating your ideas. My approach to Calculus is very non-traditional, to not only register on these metrics but show steadied improvement is a huge boost for my credibility.
If you find yourself in the midst of building an AP program, it is a long road, pace yourself.