Tough courses not for all; Yale study hints some won’t benefit
                  By Natalie Missakian, Register Staff                                                 June 15, 2000  

NEW HAVEN — While Connecticut is getting half a million dollars to expand advanced placement courses in urban high schools, a Yale study suggests not all high schools would benefit from offering students the demanding college-level work.  

The study, which was quickly condemned by state educators and the College Board, looked at the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test scores of students in inner-city schools in Detroit and Los Angeles to predict how they would perform if given advanced placement tests in challenging subjects such as calculus. 

Published in the June issue of the Educational Psychology Review, the study found a link between "aptitude" and "achievement," and said without extraordinary teaching efforts it was unlikely many of the students in the schools the study examined would pass the exams. 

Donald Green, director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale, said in a statement issued by the university that the study "raises the question of whether the money to fund such programs might be used more productively for other educational programs." 

The College Board, which administers the AP exams which give college credit to high school students that pass, called the conclusions "disturbing." "It seems to me to harken back to the times when people said there’s only certain kids that are going to succeed and they’re the ones we’re going to pay attention to and give the resources to," said Lee Jones, coordinator of AP programs for the College Board. "We don’t buy into that at all." 

Jones also said that participation in the advanced courses is a good experience for students, regardless of how well they do on the tests. The College Board is pushing all high schools in the country to offer AP courses, which are given in subjects such as calculus, biology, American History and literature. 

"We want kids to do well but we know that participation in the course is very valuable even if the exam is very tough for them," Jones said. 

Yale professor William Lichten, co-author of the study, said the College Board’s own data show the PSAT, which high school students take as juniors, can accurately predict how students will do on AP tests. 

"That means the ability of the students is the most important factor," Lichten said in a statement. "With this in mind, we have found in our study of inner city high schools in Los Angeles and Detroit, particularly in Detroit, that the vast majority of the schools do not have the students who are capable of succeeding in AP exams, although the College Board likes to say that inner city schools can succeed." 

Lichten could not be reached for further comment about his findings Wednesday. 

The study’s publication coincides with an announcement Wednesday that Connecticut is receiving $516,000 from the U.S. Department of Education to expand advanced placement courses in low-income school districts. 

The money, which breaks down to about $15,000 per school district, including New Haven, will be used to pay for textbooks, supplies and free tuition for high school teachers who wish to become AP instructors. 

The program will also pay for training for middle and high school teachers so they can better prepare students to take the college-level courses, and will cover the cost of the exams for low-income students. 

State Commissioner of Education Theodore Sergi has been pushing school districts in the state to offer more advanced placement classes, saying it "represents one clear indication of rising expectations for Connecticut’s students." 

In Connecticut, 16,042 students were enrolled in advanced placement courses in the 1998-99 school year, an increase of nearly 6,500 students from five years ago, according to the state Department of Education. 

In New Haven, Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, Hyde Leadership School and High School in the Community have all started new AP programs in the last five years, according to the state. 

"We believe that all students are capable of high academic achievement," said Tom Murphy, spokesman for the state Department of Education. "It is appropriate for an urban school to provide a spectrum of programs and allow every student access to those programs." 

The Yale report, however, said exceptional efforts like that of math teacher Jaime Escalante, whose work with inner-city students at Garfield High School in Los Angeles was the focus of the motion picture "Stand and Deliver," "only happens once in awhile and is not likely to recur in American education." 

Six years after Escalante’s effort, the number of students passing the AP calculus test at Garfield has shrunk from 85 to 19, the report said. Lichten co-authored the study with Howard Wainer, principal research scientist at the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J.