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The College Board on Wednesday presented its annual report on the state of the Advanced Placement program, the findings of which were similar to recent years. While mean scores and overall participation in the AP exam both grew, inequity in the availability of the exams and programs persists across socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, despite some improvements.

According to the report, which College Board leaders presented in a webinar Wednesday morning, 2012 saw gains in several categories. Among them, the number of high school graduates taking the AP exam in 2012 was 954,070, or 32.4 percent, up from 30.2 percent in 2011, and 18 percent a decade earlier, in 2002.

The number of high school graduates scoring at least a 3 on the AP examination’s 5-point scale, the minimum score required for course credit, also increased in 2012; according to the report, 573,472 students, or 19.5 percent, scored a 3 or higher in 2012, compared to 541,000 (18.1 percent) in 2011 and 305,098 (11.6 percent) in 2002.

“Where that is especially good news is that the program has become more diverse,” said Trevor Packer, the board's vice president for Advanced Placement. "The growth of AP has contributed in a powerful way to the diversification of AP classes.” Packer added that in 2012, the mean AP score had improved even as overall participation in the AP program expanded, which is “not something that traditionally happens, if you follow education statistics.” Rather, said Packer, an increase in participation has usually been accompanied by a decline in the mean score.

In their presentation of the report, Packer and David Coleman, the College Board's president, also praised the AP STEM Access program, an initiative funded by a grant from Google. The program specifically focuses on AP courses in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and is aimed at increasing participation in these AP programs by female and minority students, both of which are traditionally underrepresented in these disciplines. “We believe that working together with partners like Google … we can deliver on the promise of AP,” Coleman explained.

Despite encouraging numbers with regard to scores and overall participation, the report and accompanying news release also identified areas where the program needed improvement. Many of these problematic area related to both issues of access and participation across demographics, both economic and racial.

According to the news release, “[a]mong the class of 2012, more than 300,000 students identified as having a high likelihood of success in AP did not take any recommended AP Exam.” This is attributed largely to economic disparities, and more specifically “the lower availability of a variety of AP courses in schools with higher numbers of low-income and traditionally underserved minority students.”  

The College Board considers a student to have a “high likelihood,” or “AP potential,” if they have at least a 60 percent chance of scoring a 3 or higher on the exam; this likelihood is assessed based on a student’s PSAT score. Packer said that the main reason for students with AP potential failing to take the exam “seems to be course availability,” adding that students with AP potential “start to gain equal access once you control for availability of AP courses.”

The report designated “promoting equity” as a major goal for the AP program in the coming years, and although lack of equal access and opportunity remains an issue, the findings reported several positive signs over the past year in this regard.

The report states that in 2012, disparities in participation and success shrank in 30 states for African-American students and in 17 states for Latino students. AP participation also increased among low-income graduates, who accounted for 26.6 percent of students who took at least one AP examination. This is an increase from 11.5 percent in 2003. Packer singled out Florida, which was judged to have eliminated its equity gap among Latino students for both AP participation and AP success, for doing “a remarkable job of reaching out” to students with this potential.

Top 10 States in Percentage of 2012 Public High School Graduates Succeeding on AP Exams

  1. Maryland (29.6%)
  2. New York (28.0%)
  3. Massachusetts (27.9%)
  4. Florida (27.3%)
  5. Virginia (27.2%)
  6. Connecticut (26.9%)
  7. Maine (24.8%)
  8. California (24.7%)
  9. Colorado (24.2%)
  10. Vermont (22.8%)


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