Florida Advanced Placement pass rates subject by subject: English and calculus going pretty well; natural and social sciences not so well

The Orlando Sentinel’s education blog School Zone has published 2009 Florida pass rates (scoring 3 or above) on Advanced Placement exams for fourteen subjects.

When I look at the bar graph, I see reasonable pass rates in the English courses (English Language, English Literature) and the calculus courses (AB and BC).  On these exams, the Florida pass rate is within shouting distance of the national pass rate.

In the natural sciences, there are substantial gaps between the Florida pass rates and national pass rates.  In Biology, an Advanced Placement course that my own kids’ high school is pushing for freshmen (no, I’m not making this up), the Florida pass rate is 32%, compared to a national pass rate of 49%.  There are similar gaps in Environmental Science, Chemistry and Physics B (the algebra-based physics course) between the Florida and national pass rates.

AP aficionados will have noticed that I didn’t mention Physics C, the calculus-based physics course.  The Orlando Sentinel’s AP expert, Leslie Postal, passed these Florida numbers along:  Only 789 Florida students took the Physics C Mechanics test in 2009.  Of those, 443 passed.  Only 305 took the Physics C Electricity and Magnetism test, and 167 passed.  So the state’s colleges and universities need one less lecture course section in calculus-based electricity and magnetism this year than they would have without the Physics C test.

Social studies/sciences also appear to be weak.  There are yawning gaps between the Florida and national pass rates in US History, US Government and Politics, World History (another course pushed for freshmen at my kids’ high school) and Macroeconomics.

In short, the Florida AP English Language program is going OK, as is the calculus program; natural sciences and social studies/sciences, not so much.  The reader may have noticed that the subject areas in which Florida is having success are the same as those tested annually by the FCAT.  The natural sciences are seldom tested by the FCAT, and social studies/sciences not at all.

I will leave the interpretation of the causal relationships of this situation to the reader.

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