Students have complained that homework assignments have not matched the difficulty of tests, while others are concerned that material taught in Paly’s Advanced Placement (AP) classes is more difficult than what is tested on the actual AP test.
The level of difficulty of homework and material should be similar to that of test questions. The purpose of homework is to practice and understand the application of concepts in class, while tests are meant to gauge understanding of the learned material. If the difficulty of the two are not aligned within a class, at least one of two problems exists: either the homework is not adequate practice, or tests are evaluating material beyond what was taught in the class. A discrepancy in assignment difficulty also makes it hard for students to prepare sufficiently for summative assessments.
Conflicting guidelines can lead to poor performances on important tests. In addition, many AP classes at Paly fall victim to grade deflation, which makes it more difficult for Paly students to remain competitive with students from other schools when comparing grade point averages. In Paly’s AP Calculus BC class, a three year analysis from 2010-2013 found that roughly 45 percent of students received an “A” in the course, while 90 percent of them scored a 5 on the AP test, according to data on the PAUSD website. Similarly, Paly’s AP U.S. History course saw 45 percent of students achieve a score of 5 on the AP test, while only 29 percent of students received “A” grades.
It is certainly important for AP courses to incorporate AP-level questions on assessments to help students prepare for the test in May, but not without applying a reasonable grading curve that follows AP scoring guidelines. The percentage threshold for scoring a 5 on an AP test tends to be far lower than 90 percent — the standard percentage threshold to receive an “A” in a high school course. Students scoring an AP score of 5 on test questions should be receiving “A”s in the class, while those scoring 4s should earn “B”s, and so on. Paly’s AP Psychology class does an excellent job of shifting the grading scale to match the AP test curve.
Ultimately, teachers should keep in mind the underlying purpose of homework and tests — to practice and evaluate understanding of concepts learned in the classroom — as well as the importance of battling grade deflation in AP classes to avoid an unfair distribution of grades.