Initial Stake in the Ground: AP Calculus AB Exam Scores

Late last week, the College Board released student scores for the 2011-2012 academic year’s Advanced Placement (AP) exams.  Twelve of my AP Calculus AB students took the AP exam.  In the prior academic year, 2010-2011, forty students took the exam under a different teacher.  The number of students who took the exam varied greatly between the two years given the misalignment in expectations between last fall’s incoming students and myself; those students requested the course expecting it to be taught by the same teacher as the prior year.  Since those horses have left the barn, I expect many more students to take the exam this coming academic year, which spans 2012-2013.

As the data in the following two tables reveal, the mean score between years improved significantly.  I am satisfied with these results given the rough start to the year.  I believe the mean would have been lower had more students taken the exam.  Hence, for the next few years, I expect the mean to be closer to a 2.5.  Once we align the mathematics curriculum and instruction throughout our department, expanding the content focus on trigonometry and the process focus on problem solving, I expect the mean to return closer to a 3.0.

As the two following tables show, despite the small sample size, the grouped distribution of 5-4-3 scores and 2-1 scores for my students’ closely matches those of the entire population of students in the US who took the exam. [1]

In fact, when comparing to scores from our state,  the grouped percentages match exactly, while the mean score for my students exceeded that for all students in California.  My students should be proud of themselves.  I know I am proud of them.

While most of this post focused on test scores, distributions, and means, the most meaningful parameter is whether a student benefited from taking the class.  In that regard, I feel strongly that my students received a college-level education in calculus, learning, and mathematical thinking.  I look forward to hearing from them as they conquer new frontiers.  One of them already provided the following reply to a congratulatory email I sent upon learning of their 5 out of 5 score on the AP exam.

I am very proud of the score I received and honored to be your student. Your class helped broaden my perspectives and expand my horizons. Best of wishes to you and your students next year!

[1]  The national population data comes from 2011 exam scores since the 2012 scores are not currently available.  While the scores vary slightly from year to year, they do not differ significantly.  Once 2012 data are available, I will update this post.

[2]  AP Exam scores are reported on a 5-point scale as follows:

5   Extremely well qualified*
4   Well qualified*
3   Qualified*
2   Possibly qualified*
1   No recommendation**

*    Qualified to receive college credit or advanced placement
**  No recommendation to receive college credit or advanced placement

About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Independent consultant and junior college adjunct instructor. Former secondary math teacher who taught math intervention, algebra 1, geometry, accelerated algebra 2, precalculus, honors precalculus, AP Calculus AB, and AP Statistics. Prior to teaching, I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
This entry was posted in Assessments and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Initial Stake in the Ground: AP Calculus AB Exam Scores

  1. Dave ( also a career changer Math teacher ),a few years ahead of you. says:

    Look into the College Board STEM program this summer. I took the course two weeks ago. Worthwhile.


  2. california parent says:

    I don’t know why you’re proud of your students beating California. A lot of AP (esp math and science) classes are taught in California private/parochial schools by unqualified teachers. The students are not filtered out academically to take AP courses and therefore not prepared for the rigor. The scores would be a lot higher. Come to the San Francisco Bay Area and match your school against schools from this area.
    36/40 and 7/12 students scoring 3 or less on the AP is considered pathetic around here.


    • California Parent: I am going to allow your comment for the moment. However, it comes off a little arrogant and classist to me, which may not have been your intent. At the same time, making a comment like “considered pathetic around here” does not come off as very supportive. For what it’s worth, I did not say I was proud of my students for “beating” California; in fact, I did not use “win / beat” or similar in my post. I did say I was proud of my students. Proud for what they accomplished given all that we experienced in the year, which you, as a recent reader / commentator may not be aware of. By the way, 7 out of 12 scored a 3 or higher this year, which is perfectly aligned with national and California distributions. And lastly, it is not my intent to match our scores against that of other schools like a sporting event. It is simply to capture where the school was prior to my arrival, where we scored the first year, and to see where it goes from there deciding then if any adjustments are needed. Nothing more, nothing less. Peace.


  3. Pingback: Angst in AP Calculus AB | Reflections of a Second-career Math Teacher

  4. Pingback: Earning One’s Stripes As a Teacher | Reflections of a Second-career Math Teacher

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s