Editor's Notebook

Newspapers Flunk Coverage of Advanced Placement News

February 15, 2008

 Both The Washington Post and the Washington Examiner yesterday had stories about Virginia and Maryland students' participation in Advanced Placement (AP) exams. The coverage came off a press release sent out by the College Board, which administers the exams. We got a copy, too.

Those two newspapers didn't even bother to check with AP to ask some basic questions, such as whether the growth in participation in AP exams has led to better scores on the exams. Kind of an important question, don't you think?

I would expect such coverage from the Examiner; its short story lengths mean you often can get more comprehensive news coverage from the Pennysaver. But The Post gave this story to Jay Mathews, supposedly the dean of education writers, and he did little more than a warmed-over rewrite of the press material.

Our Kristen Armstrong checked in with the College Board folks, and got some data that will help explain the story better. We'll have it for you shortly. (As an aside, the College Board folks were very helpful and got the information to us quickly. Kudos to them.)

Regular readers know that AP exams are a bugaboo of mine: If the participation rates and average scores are going up, that's a good thing, but if scores go down, that's not such a good thing.

Often, we have to dig to get the information that rounds out the picture when reporting on standardized-test scores. Virtually no other newspaper in the local area does the same thing, but putting in the extra effort pays dividends in more comprehensive coverage that tell readers (and taxpayers) the full story, not just the story education officials want you to hear.

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