What does a 90% AP Passing Rate Tell Us?

UPWARD: OUR HEAD OF SCHOOL'S BLOG
I’m a numbers guy, but also a student (and teacher) of the humanities. While I find tremendous validation in serving as a steward for this great school, my passion is teaching. It is important to me that I remain connected to the students, so my office is also a classroom. Over the past few years, I’ve taught a number of courses including financial literacy (numbers) and ethics (humanities). Some may consider these two courses polar opposites, in my experience, they are inextricably tied.

Similarly, there is a debate about the importance of test scores—on AP tests in particular—and their relationship to authentic learning and preparation for college and, ultimately, life. Again, these two notions are often seen as opposing philosophies that are mutually exclusive. To me, this is a false choice. Both can and do coexist in great schools—ours included—and, as a result, our students are the beneficiaries. Tests are just one of the tools that our teachers use to assess and guide student growth and achievement.

With that said, I’d like to celebrate our students’ successes on Advanced Placement tests during the 2016-17 academic year. Their scores are the strongest in recent years and likely in the history of the school. AP tests are scored on a 1-5 scale. Scores of 3 and above are considered passing and many colleges award college credit for a passing score.

The College Board, which administers the AP program, reported that the percentage of total AP students at VMS with Scores 3+ was 92.9% this past year.

To give you a bit of context, in Colorado the average percentage of total AP students with scores 3+ is 62%. Globally, that number is 60.3%.

By comparison, all nine VMS students taking Calculus BC earned a 5.  Of the 19 VMS students taking Calculus AB, 94% passed and thirteen earned a 5.

As an independent school, we invest heavily in professional development and seek accreditation to ensure that we are best serving our students. We also have the flexibility to determine our own path. AP courses have a prescribed curriculum, but this does not mean that we are limited to teaching only what is on the syllabus. Our teachers and students have the ability to go above and beyond what is required. This approach provides opportunities to achieve success on tests AND create true depth in learning fueled by teacher-student rapport and shared interests.

Last year, the parent of a kindergarten student asked me about our upper school students “test scores.” I offer the above as part of the answer, but also as a window into the process behind the product which is rooted in deeply caring and talented teachers, which I believe to be the reason why our students ultimately learn more.

About Vail Mountain School

Founded in 1962, Vail Mountain School is a K-12, coed, independent school in Vail, Colorado. Our philosophy is to provide a demanding, college preparatory, liberal arts education in an atmosphere of mutual respect between faculty and students, where nurturing a healthy self-concept and stimulating academic inquiry are parallel objectives. Intentionally designed cross-age programs promote role modeling, responsibility, self confidence, and a sense of community. Our location in the Rocky Mountains allows us to integrate the outdoors into the academic and cultural fabric of the school through hut trips, all-school Ski Fridays, and other experiential learning opportunities. The result: our graduates possess a quiet confidence that serves them well in college and in life—confidence to assert themselves in their first college level essays; to raise their hand in a class of hundreds; to live on their own for the first time, to meet with and engage their professors; and to lead among their peers.