We might lose AP exam data used to fight America's STEM deserts

We might lose AP exam data used to fight America's STEM deserts
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The Department of Education has proposed stopping the collection of Advanced Placement exam performance data from U.S. schools. This decision is dismaying, disheartening and wrong. This is the very time we should be expanding access to data and increasing transparency, not limiting its collection, analysis and action.

While debate over the role of the U.S. Department of Education wages well into a fourth decade, there can be little question about the need for data to know where government, corporate and philanthropic dollars are most needed and most effective at driving better and lasting student outcomes. 

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Among other things, the AP testing data help identify STEM deserts. These areas fail to offer rigorous math and science classes that provide students with knowledge, skills and dispositions to reach their full potential and thrive in the 21st century economy.

 

Already, the nation has identified a massive gap in girls and minorities striving in the growing fields of STEM studies and professions. School systems that fail to offer rigorous and independently assessed classes in these subjects increase the number of students missing out on potential opportunities.

Organizations like the National Math and Science Initiative and its funding partners cannot efficiently identify schools and communities in need of support without uniformed and systematic data. At the same time, the impact of spending from across the spectrum — including corporate and philanthropic investments, as well as federal, state, local tax revenue — cannot be adequately measured without consistent data collection.

I personally know the importance of this. I grew up in a STEM desert in Detroit. My parents made the difficult choice of sending me to live with my grandparents so I had educational opportunities. It’s a decision no parent should have to make. 

Now, as the CEO of an education non-profit, I’ve seen how our programs have benefitted more than 1.5 million students and I know how we continue to support tens of thousands of teachers across the country. NMSI is not the only organization changing school cultures, helping teachers to be highly effective and improving the trajectory of students’ lives. 

As NMSI and other organizations activate public and private resources to support schools, teachers and students, we should be held accountable for answering a few basic questions: 

  • How much are we doing?
  • How well are we doing it?
  • Who’s better off as a result?

We cannot fully answer those questions without the vital data the Department of Education collects.

NMSI is calling on other organizations and leaders interested in public education to join our effort to eradicate STEM deserts in the next decade. I also call on parents, teachers, business owners and others to contact the department and Congress in support of the continued collection of AP exam performance data and in support of public policies that put our collective dollars to effective use where they are most needed.

Matthew Randazzo is CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative and a 2016-17 Annie E. Casey Foundation Children and Family Fellow.