Blog: The Educated Reporter

Student AP Scores Rise; Equity Issues Remain

After a decade of declining scores on Advanced Placement exams, 12th-graders nationwide fared better than the previous class, according to a report the College Board released today.

These results are surprising because the number of students taking the AP exams increased; usually when the pool of test takers expands, the overall scores go down as the addition of more students who are less likely to do well lowers the national results. For example, between 2001 and 2010, the number of students who took an AP exam while in high school nearly doubled, from just over 431,000 to nearly 823,000. In that period, pass rates for those students slid from 64 percent to 59 percent. In 2011, the downward trend stabilized when 905,000 students took the tests, while in 2012 scores inched above 60 percent with 954,000 test-takers.

However, the analysis of the 2012 exams did continue to identify an equity gap along racial lines as whites and Asians were far more likely than blacks and Hispanics to enroll in the college-level courses.

“Today we applaud those educators who have worked tirelessly to bring the power of AP to more communities and more students than ever before,” said David Coleman, president of College Board, the non-profit organization that designed the AP. “But we must not forget the hundreds of thousands of students with the potential to succeed in Advanced Placement who don’t even have access to its coursework.”

Coleman’s remarks are based on a metric the College Board uses to measure how many students with the potential to do well on an AP exam are enrolled in an AP class at their schools. That measurement looks at the roughly 2 million students each year who take the PSAT exam—which also is administered by the College Board—and score high enough for research to suggest they likely would earn a score of three or higher on an AP exam, which would be eligible for credit at some colleges. During a press briefing with reporters, College Board staff said PSAT scores are nearly three times more accurate in predicting success in an AP class than a student’s GPA overall or in a prerequisite class.

In a study issued today, the College Board found that just 40 percent of students who are likely to show success on AP class take such a class. The racial breakdown speaks to an equity gap in the distribution of college-level courses across the country, says the College Board. For example, among Asians and whites who are likely to do well, six and four out of 10 students took an AP math course, respectively. Blacks and Hispanics were three out of 10 while Native Americans were two out 10.

Since 2002, however, the proportion of blacks who have taken an AP exam has nearly doubled, from roughly 5 percent to 9 percent of that population. Though still low, their pass rate did improve from around 2 percent to 4. Among Hispanics, 18 percent took an AP exam in last year’s graduating class, a six point jump from 2002. Pass rates also improved from 12 to 16 percent in that time period.

Below is a summary of what other newsrooms are writing about the AP. 

Education Week: “Nearly one in five public high school graduates in the class of 2012 passed an Advanced Placement exam, reflecting a steady increase in performance over the past decade, new data released today by the College Board show. 

“Last year, 19.5 percent of graduates scored a 3 or higher, which is considered a passing grade on a scale of 1 to 5. That is up from 18.1 percent who passed in 2011 and 11.6 percent among the class of 2002.”

Washington Post: “Maryland high school students ranked first in the nation in their success on Advanced Placement exams, a key measure of college preparedness, while Virginia slipped from third to fifth nationally, according to results released Wednesday morning.

Virginia’s dip came in spite of continuing increases in the percentage of students both taking AP tests and scoring a college-ready score of 3 or higher, state officials said. AP tests are graded on a scale of 1 to 5, and students who earn a 3 or better are often eligible for college credit.

“Two other states — Massachusetts and Florida — outpaced Virginia’s gains and overtook it in the rankings. Virginia officials attributed the shift to state-funded AP incentive programs in those states. Virginia had held steady at third nationally for the previous five years.”

USA Today: “[A] new report by the College Board, the non-profit group that creates the tests, finds that opportunities to do advanced work are uneven across the USA. Nearly 30% of high school students in Maryland pass an AP test in high school, for instance, but fewer than 5% in Mississippi do. (A score of 3 or higher is considered passing.)

“The new findings come a day after a U.S. Department of Education panel released its own report on educational opportunities in the USA. The Equity and Excellence Commission noted: ‘While some young Americans — most of them white and affluent — are getting a truly world-class education, those who attend schools in high poverty neighborhoods are getting an education that more closely approximates school in developing nations.’”

Miami Herald:Since 2000, Florida has pushed schools to offer more AP classes, meant to mimic introductory college courses, as a way to challenge students and better prepare them for post-secondary academics. Classes once restricted only to a high school’s top students were opened to many more teenagers, who can earn college credit with AP scores of 3 or higher.

“Florida led the nation last year in the percentage of students taking an AP exam and has earned praise as student success has jumped significantly in the last decade. More Florida graduates aced an AP exam in 2012 than sat for the tests in 2002. Hispanic students, considered “underserved” by AP nationwide, have shined in Florida, succeeding on AP exams in high numbers.”