Report: Every state increasing share of successful AP students
WASHINGTON (AP) -- In every state and the District of Columbia, more students are passing at least one Advanced Placement test, a sign of progress in a nation eager to improve college preparation, the College Board reported Tuesday.
Significant gaps remain, however, as AP participation booms nationwide, according to the first state-by-state report in the 50-year history of the college-level testing program. Many students enter college without having passed an AP test, and black students have distinct challenges, with low test participation and test scores a level behind those of whites.
Across the country, 13.2 percent of the high school class of 2004 demonstrated mastery of at least one AP course, up from 10.2 percent from the 2000 class. Mastery means gaining a score of at least 3 on a 5-point test scale.
Provided by the nonprofit College Board that runs the AP, the report measures how well states provide access to AP classes and how well students do. Students were counted just once even if they passed more than one AP test so that no state's performance would be inflated.
Gains ranged from just 0.6 percentage points by Louisiana and Mississippi to 5.7 percentage points by Florida.
The growing percentage of successful AP test-takers is impressive given the record size of the high school population, said Trevor Packer, executive director of the AP program. He said more states are committed to challenging students regardless of their background.
"Much of the credit goes to teachers and principals and superintendents," Packer said. "They're the ones saying, 'What happens if we expose these students to rigorous curriculum?' They're seeing such tremendous results, in terms of students feeling connected to college."
Research shows that success on AP exams is a strong predictor of success in college.
Over five decades, the number of students taking annual AP exams has grown from about 1,000 to more than 1.1 million, with a 140 percent increase during the last decade alone. A few hundred public high schools used to offer AP; now two-thirds of them do. The subject list has more than tripled, from history and biology to additions in the arts and social sciences.
The AP goal remains to challenge students to analyze subjects at the kind of depth found in a college classroom. Students emerge with an edge in college admissions if they score well. Yet the AP has its critics, too, as some educators worry about inconsistent course quality and others say kids are piling up AP courses to impress colleges.
New York is the first state to have more than 20 percent of its graduating class achieve a grade of 3 or higher on an exam. Other states are close -- Maryland, Utah, Florida, California and Massachusetts had 18 to 20 percent of students earning the passing score.
The states that showed the greatest increase in the percentage of students who mastered an AP test were Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, Colorado, Connecticut and Washington.
The Bush administration, which has emphasized improving high school rigor, has endorsed Advanced Placement as one way to do that. Bush plans to ask for $51.5 million in federal support next year, up from $29.8 million, a 73 percent increase.
"This report shows that when our nation's students -- including minorities -- are challenged, they are indeed up to the task," said Ray Simon, assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education.
States are making gains in helping minorities. The proportion of Hispanic students taking AP exams is now about the same as the proportion of Hispanics in the U.S. public schools.
But black students, who account for more than 13 percent of the school population, make up only 6 percent of AP test-takers. The typical test score is 2 for black students, between 2.5 to 2.8 for Hispanic students, and 3 for white students.
Overall, an estimated 57 percent of the 2004 high school class enrolled in college, but only 13.2 percent of them passed an AP test. The goal is to close that gap, Packer said.
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