13 March 2008

Their Loss Is Your Gain

When I scored AP Biology exams, I used to be grateful for every empty test booklet that passed through my hands. Sure, it was easy to score, but more importantly, every low-scoring student was of help to my own kids. Because only ~60% of the test-takers can "pass" the test, there is a rather Darwinian feel to things. You not only compete against your own classmates to be in the top portion of the draw, you have to compete against every other student. And as prepared as I might help my students to be, I was never adverse to any help that came in the form of an uncaring student from another class. I was reminded of this when reading a New York Times story about how the projected changes in the demographics of high school graduates will make it easier for other students to get into college.

Projections show that by next year or the year after, the annual number of high school graduates in the United States will peak at about 2.9 million after a 15-year climb. The number is then expected to decline until about 2015. Most universities expect this to translate into fewer applications and less selectivity, with most students probably finding it easier to get into college. The demographic changes include sharp geographic, social and economic variations. Experts anticipate, for example, a decline in affluent high school graduates, and an increase in poor and working-class ones. In response, colleges and universities are already increasing their recruitment of students in high-growth states and expanding their financial-aid offerings to low-income students with academic potential.

Nationally, the population decline is projected to be relatively gentle, with the number of high school graduates expected to fall in the Northeast and Midwest, while continuing to increase in the South and Southwest.

The number of white high school graduates will go down nationally, and the number of African-American graduates will remain relatively steady. But the number of Hispanic and Asian-American graduates will increase sharply, according to projections by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, whose demographic estimates are highly regarded by admissions officials.

For those of us working with students who are of late junior high/early high school age, this is a great opportunity for those kids. Keep your eyes on students with potential who might have struggled to make the next step in their education---and see if you can't help them take advantage of this change in the admissions market.


Clix said...

so is this just because we're getting past the "wave" of boomers' babies?

The Science Goddess said...

Likely that and some other factors in terms of fluctuations in population. The article mentions that this should be a temporary thing---the number of graduates is scheduled to rise again a few years after that point.

hschinske said...

I thought the cut points for the scores were set by the chief reader, who presumably wouldn't take any account of empty booklets. It's not as simple as 20% getting a 5 and so forth, or you wouldn't need the chief reader at all. They *want* the scores to represent the same thing from year to year, not vary with the particular population.

According to the College Board website, "Immediately after the Reading, the Chief Reader in each AP course decides,
after examining that year's statistical data, which composite scores will
delineate the boundaries between the five AP grades. Continuity is crucial and
allows colleges to be confident that an AP grade of 3 on this year's exam will
represent, as nearly as possible, the same level of achievement as a grade
of 3 on last year's exam."

The Science Goddess said...

It is true that composite scores fluctuate a bit because each test is different. Meanwhile, there are years where there is a "bad" question. For example, one year that I was a Reader, there were well over 100K students who sat for the exam---and the percent of those who scored 3 or more points (out of 10) on one of the free response items was statistically insignificant. (If I remember correctly, it was less than 1 in 10K.)

So, even though on the surface it would seem that every free response item receives equal weight (4 items at 10 points each for 40% of composite), in truth, some items end up being weighted more or less based on how students respond.

The College Board does keep track of "earned zeros" vs. "no response," but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't make a difference point-wise.