Austin ISD AP Test Scores remain consistent despite COVID disruption

Teacher in the classroom

By Benjamin Beane and Christina Burbank

The recent release of Advance Placement testing scores revealed that despite COVID-19 disruptions, Austin ISD students passed their AP exams at a similar rate to the last two years.

The Advanced Placement program is offered in all Austin ISD high schools and some middle schools. The program consists of college-level courses, and students can take the AP exam at the end of the semester for college credit.

By passing their end-of-semester exam, students can save money on tuition and textbooks and gtt a jumpstart on their major, with some AP students entering college as sophomores.

2021 results showed that AISD AP students tested an average score of 3.7, nearly a full point higher than the minimum 3 on the 1-5 grading scale needed to earn college credit.

Of the 4,199 total AP students, 1,280 received AP Scholar Awards. And the 2020 average score for AP students was 3.82 and the number of total scholars was 1,354.

Lesson Planning

Teachers knew virtual AP learning would be challenging and adjusted to make sure students were prepared.

“In all honesty, it was rough,” said Randy Cantu, AP Music Theory teacher at Bowie High School. “It was easy to gauge that it was going to be a rough year with individual accountability,”

There was no one lesson-planning solution to virtual AP learning. Many teachers approached their courses and students differently.

Music Theory requires singing, reading, listening and analyzing, which can be more challenging with remote learning. But high school teacher Cantu modified his schedule to include more one-on-one time.

“I feel like one-on-ones have always been something that benefits those kids, and to some degree or another we’ve done that here,” Cantu said. “But last year was a little more, we just did it a little more and a little longer and it paid off; they did really well.”

Robert Becker, Anderson High School AP Human Geography teacher, said he didn’t sugarcoat the situation to his students.

“You know, despite some of the messaging of like, ‘they need to get less work and they're stressed and all this,’ it's like, look, my kids are still going to have to take the AP exam,” Becker said. “They’re still going to have to be ready, so I'm going to make sure they're ready.

One resource campuses used was AP Classroom, an online portal recently introduced by the AP College Board.

AP Classroom features daily lessons taught by AP teachers, topic questions to check students’  understanding of a subject, progress checks to measure knowledge and skill, a gradebook-style analyzation tool and a question bank for exam preparation.

“When it first came out, I barely used it because I was just trying to figure it out, and they've definitely made some improvements that make it a lot more user friendly,” Popp-Gutmann said. “But last year it was a resource that I used throughout the whole year and plan to continue to use it this year as well.”

Student perseverance

“I was just extra proud of these kids that — I felt like last year was a year of adversity — and they were able to just be rock stars on that and show off what they had learned,” said Popp-Gutmann.

While many factors were at play, whether it be adjusted lesson plans or new online resources, ultimately it was up to the students to determine their own success.

“We all think about the teachers and how much we educators had to pivot and had to make adjustments very quickly to do things online,” said teacher Shaun Hopkins, AP Spanish Language and Culture at Small Middle School. “But the students don’t always get enough credit for how quickly they pivoted, and how well they pivoted, to doing things on these online platforms.”

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