Courses Help Boost Advanced Placement Results
From eSchool News staff and wire service reports, January
For more articles like this
are taking--and passing--Advanced Placement (AP) exams in every
part of the country, as college-level work in high school
becomes increasingly common, the College Board reported Jan. 25.
Many state education officials attribute the gains in
participation at least in part to online courses that expand the
reach of advanced-level instruction.
In every state and the District of Columbia, the percentage of
public school students who took--and who passed--at least one AP
test was up in 2004, compared with the graduating class of 2000.
Passing-rate gains ranged from just six-tenths of a percentage
point by Louisiana and Mississippi to 5.7 percentage points by
Florida, reported the College Board, the nonprofit organization
that runs the AP program.
Significant gaps remain, however, even 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,
the College Board reported; and black students have low test
participation and scores that average a full level behind those
The Bush administrations in Washington and Florida, which have
been pushing to increase high school rigor, embraced the
positive news, which followed other reports that have
underscored how unprepared many high school graduates are for
college or work.
"Florida has developed a strong and unique partnership with the
College Board that has expanded college preparatory course work
to more minorities and under represented youth," Gov. Jeb Bush,
the president's brother, said in Tallahassee, Fla.
College Board President Caston Caperton cited Florida's
progress, saying it "presents a national model."
The AP program, which began as an experiment for elite students
seeking college courses and credit, has now become a fixture in
more than 14,000 U.S. public schools. Beyond gaining experience,
a student gains an edge; college admission officers say they
place more importance on grades in college-prep courses such as
AP than they do on any other factor.
Across the country, 20.9 percent of the public school class of
2004--one in five students--took at least one AP exam, compared
with 15.9 percent four years earlier. More significantly, 13.2
percent mastered an AP exam last year, up from 10.2 percent in
Research shows that success on AP exams is a strong predictor of
success in college.
"This new report provides further proof that our children
respond when we challenge them academically," said U.S.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who began her term last
week. Spellings said she was especially happy to see more
minorities taking AP courses. That has been a long-standing
challenge for the College Board.
Hispanics made up 13.1 percent of AP test-takers last year, up
from 10.9 percent. Their participation slightly exceeds their
share of the public school population. AP Spanish appears to be
influencing those numbers, because 53 percent of its
participants are Hispanic.
Black students remain underrepresented in the AP program. They
account for 13.2 percent of the students but only 6 percent of
AP test-takers, up from 5.3 percent four years ago.
About two in three AP test-takers are white.
To avoid inflating state performance, the College Board counted
students once regardless of how many AP subject tests they
passed. But that obscures the point that students in wealthy
areas often have access to multiple AP courses while other
students do not, said Bob Schaeffer, public education director
of FairTest, which monitors standardized testing.
"Unfortunately, despite the value of AP courses, they end up
reinforcing huge gaps between haves and have-nots because of
differences in where courses are offered," he said.
Online instruction is quickly changing that, however--especially
in rural areas.
Michelle Mehlberg, head of South Dakota's office of curriculum,
technology, and assessment, said the advent of virtual learning
has greatly increased student participation in AP courses across
South Dakota, especially in remote districts, where access to
these and other opportunities is traditionally lower than in
more urban or affluent areas.
This year, Mehlberg said, at least 86 of the state's students
are enrolled in an online AP course from Seattle-based APEX
Learning. She said South Dakota boasts a 95-percent pass rate
for its students enrolled in AP courses--including those who
take classes via the internet.
Mary Haas, AP mentor for the 1,000-student Del Rapids Public
School District in rural South Dakota, said online courses offer
"a great opportunity" for students in rural districts, noting
that kids are leaving high school feeling better equipped to
succeed at the next level.
Before online AP courses, Haas said, districts like Del Rapids
"were pretty much limited to what they had on staff." While the
school system boasts a corps of intensely committed educators at
every level, she said, no one is an expert on every subject.
Deborah Hinckley, public affairs director for the Wyoming
Department of Education--yet another system that relies heavily
on the internet to help bridge the rural divide--said the online
AP courses and other opportunities available through the state's
high-speed data and video network have opened the door for
children to learn and succeed in ways she never would have
To date, she said, there remain only approximately eight
districts throughout the state that offer no form of online
learning for students. Aside from the dozens of AP courses
available on the network, she said, the state also offers
foreign-language instruction and other difficult-to-staff
On a 5-point scale, the typical AP test score is 2 for black
students, between 2.5 and 2.8 for Hispanic students, and 3 for
white students, the College Board reported.
New York is the first state to have more than 20 percent of its
graduating class achieve a grade of 3 or higher on the exam, the
level considered to be mastery. New York's challenging standards
and state testing have encouraged AP enrollment, state officials
Other states were close to New York; Maryland, Utah, Florida,
California, and Massachusetts, with anywhere from 18 to 20
percent of students earning the passing score.
Besides Florida, the states with the greatest increases in
successful AP scores were Maryland, North Carolina, Colorado,
Connecticut, and Washington.
Advanced Placement program
Interactive map of AP results by state
back to the top ~
back to Breaking News
~ back to