Publisher's note: The author of this fine report is Kristy Bailey, who is a contributor to the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.
Funding concerns, objections to 'merit' pay derail proposal this session
RALEIGH The Burke County Republican who introduced a bill aimed at expanding Advanced Placement participation among low-income students says he plans to take up the measure again when the state legislature convenes in January.
"I think it's reasonable to consider it might pass [during the next session]," Rep. Hugh Blackwell told Carolina Journal
. "The reason it didn't go further in the short session is lack of funding. I didn't want to push it."
House Bill 965, sponsored by Blackwell and three other Republicans, died when the education appropriations committee failed to take action before adjournment in July. The bill had one Democratic co-sponsor, Rep. Becky Carney of Mecklenburg County.
Under the proposed legislation, N.C. high school students who scored a 3 or better on most AP tests would have been eligible to receive college credit in exchange for the passing grade. Teachers would have received a $50 bonus for each student who received a 3 or better, the equivalent of a C grade, on an AP test.
Support seemed to split along party lines, with Democratic lawmakers generally opposing bonuses based on individual teachers' success, or lack thereof.
A raft of research from the College Board and other sources has found that students taking AP tests are more likely to succeed in high school, are more ready for college, and better handle the rigors of college work. High schools that prepare students for AP tests show improved performance. The results are particularly impressive for low-income students.
The program is modeled on Florida's AP Incentive Program. Florida is the only state with the program, and has more AP scores of 3 (out of a possible 5) or better, according to David Gupta, executive director of the Florida Partnership of the College Board. Gupta outlined the program for the N.C. House Select Committee on Education Reform in March.
AP participation among Florida's high school students grew by 15.5 percent during the first 10 years of the program, from 2000 to 2010, according to data provided by the College Board.
In 2000, just 65,992 Florida high school students took AP exams. More than 278,000 students took AP exams during the 2009-10 school year, the most recent period for which the figures are available. Among those, a total of 114,430 students scored 3 or better; 26,079 Hispanic students scored 3 or better; and 6,058 African-American students scored 3 or better.
Florida provides a $50 bonus to teachers for every student who scores 3 or better, but increases that amount to $500 per teacher for every test passed in a low-performing school.
The House fiscal analysts estimated the price tag for the incentive program at $11.7 million. The bill's sponsors proposed funding the AP incentive program with existing public school appropriations. Specifically, $12.2 million would have been earmarked for the total cost of administering the program in fiscal year 2012-13, including $7.7 million for testing fees, $2.9 million for teacher bonuses, and $1.5 million for professional development for teachers in AP courses.
Two Democratic lawmakers on the committee questioned the teacher bonuses, which would have been capped at $2,000 per teacher, matching Florida's program.
Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Montgomery, told CJ
that the costs associated with implementing an incentive program seemed unnecessary. "The goals of the bill are laudable," said Goodman. But he said he has "an issue" with giving teachers bonuses for students scoring a 3 on AP exams. "That seems to be a low bar." He said he would have less of a problem if the threshold was a 4 rather than 3.
"A 3 in general is a passing score," Blackwell said. "Different schools or universities may have different standards for what they accept for college credit, but a 3 generally suggests that you not only did well enough in the course to pass but also mastered some portion of the materials. The idea is not that we are just paying more people to enroll in a class. The idea of the bonus is to reward the teacher for recruiting more students and for getting them over the finish line, so to speak."
Likewise, Wake County Democratic Rep. Rosa Gill said she supports the idea of offering AP courses to more students, but not the bonus system. Existing AP teachers already receive perks others don't, she noted, including smaller classes and extra professional development. What Gill termed "regular teachers" -- the educators who prepare students in earlier grades -- are left out of the bonus system, she said. "How do you reward the teachers who've prepared them all the way from kindergarten to, say, eighth grade?"
One of the bill's key provisions, Blackwell noted, is that it would have provided access to AP courses for low-income students. One proposal for defraying costs for these students included providing full state funding for the $87 testing fee, or partial state funding of $50, according to information provided to the committee in March by the Division of Fiscal Research.
Based on an estimated 4.3 percent increase in the number of AP tests taken, had the incentive program been funded, it would have cost the state $7.4 million to defray testing fees for all students.
Goodman said imposing an income threshold, with the state paying testing fees only for low-income students, could reduce the costs of the program significantly.
In North Carolina, roughly 30 percent of high school students who graduated in 2011 had taken at least one AP course, and 18.4 percent scored a 3 or above on at least one AP course, according to legislative analysts. North Carolina was one of 19 states with scores above the national average, the division noted.
According to College Board data for tests administered to North Carolina high school seniors in May 2011, the overwhelming majority of participants in AP testing were white -- 15,767 of the nearly 19,000 students taking the exams. According to the board's data, 2,144 students were classified as black, 418 as Mexican-American, and 578 as "Other Hispanic."