Our Views: Bad spin, good policy

When a national report came out about Advanced Placement tests, there was good news for Louisiana in it. The Louisiana Department of Education produced a lengthy recital of the high points.

The number of our high school seniors gaining college credit through the tests was up 25 percent in 2013 over the previous year; that was the highest increase in the nation.

Louisiana also was third in the nation for the increase in the percentage of graduates taking an AP exam in high school.

There was more along this line, but nowhere in the lengthy report from the state department was one other little factoid. That is that Louisiana had among the poorest performances nationwide in passing the tests.

Only 5.3 percent of Louisiana’s public high school graduates scored a 3 or higher last year on an AP exam, the grade most colleges require for students to earn credit. The tests are scored on a 1 to 5 scale. The only state with a lower percentage of students scoring a 3 or higher was Mississippi, at 4.4 percent.

That’s far down the list. Nationally, 20.1 percent of 2013’s high school graduates reached the benchmark. Maryland led the country at 29.6 percent.

The clumsy spin on the AP statistics is part of a credibility gap for the department and Superintendent John White. “Louisiana is poised to continue improving upon this success,” said White in the press release. “With more students than ever before participating in AP, Louisiana is on track to being a leader in expanding college access to all students,” the release added.

Success? Not exactly, just yet.

The education department in this case shot itself in the foot, but what should not be lost in the discussion is the good news that was overhyped by the spin.

We support the policy of encouraging students to take academically advanced courses. Among other things, the department under White has sponsored seminars for more than 1,000 teachers of AP courses. A student from a poor family can be reimbursed by the state for the AP course fee.

In 2013, Louisiana students took approximately 6,000 more AP courses, with 23,435 students enrolled.

Of course, we want students to get college credit for the AP courses, and the low success rate indicates many other faults in schools struggling to improve. Still, the department’s policy is worthwhile: A student taking an AP course, even if not winning credit, will be better-prepared in college in that subject.

With time and more progress, we might move up the list ahead of states other than Mississippi. And that will be worth a news release or time when the time comes.