More students are taking challenging Advanced Placement courses and passing the corresponding exams than before, according to recently released data.
That is true in Georgia, South Carolina and the nation.
Even so, educators and policymakers say, there is still a long way to go.
Take these numbers presented by the College Board, which runs the AP program:
• 18.1 percent of high school graduates in the Class of 2011 earned at least one AP exam score of 3 or higher. (The exams are graded on a 5-point scale, and 3 or higher is generally enough to earn college course credit.)
• 12.1 percent of 2011 graduates did not score that high on any AP exam they took.
• Among 771,000 graduates from the Class of 2011 who scored well enough on the PSAT to demonstrate likely success on an AP exam, nearly 478,000 did not take one.
• Black students, while representing 14.7 percent of the Class of 2011 nationwide, accounted for only 9 percent of AP test-takers
“These data confirm the need to continue expansion of AP opportunities for prepared and motivated students, because hundreds of thousands of U.S. students have indeed been academically ready for the challenge of an AP course but lacked the opportunity, encouragement or motivation to participate,” said Trevor Packer, the senior vice president of AP and College Readiness at the College Board.
Georgia has worked for several years to encourage more high school students to take AP courses and exams.
According to the Georgia Department of Education:
• 19.8 percent (16,476) of students from Georgia’s public high school Class of 2011 scored 3 or higher on at least one AP exam during high school (ranking Georgia 13th in the nation), compared to 18.1 percent for the nation.
• 38.2 percent (31,764) of students from Georgia’s public high school Class of 2011 took at least one AP exam during high school, compared to 26 percent (19,492) from the Class of 2006 and 19.7 percent (12,332) from the Class of 2001.
• 12.6 percent (2,076) of black students from Georgia’s public high school Class of 2011 scored 3 or higher on at least one AP exam during high school (ranking Georgia 2nd in the nation), compared to 4.1 percent for the nation.
According to data released by the Columbia County school system, 63.5 percent of AP exams taken by district students in the 2010-11 school year scored 3 or higher, compared with 57.4 percent nationally and 54.4 percent in Georgia. The data also show that 70.1 percent of Lakeside High School students scored at that level, the highest in the district, while Harlem High School had the lowest percentage, 32.8.
In the Richmond County school system, 12.9 percent of students taking AP exams in 2010 had at least one score of 3 or higher, according to that district's data.
At the school level, 60.2 percent of John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School students scored 3 or higher, the district's highest, while no students at George P. Butler or T.W. Josey high school scored at that level, the data show.
From 2003 to 2010, the Georgia Legislature approved funds to pay for students to take at least one AP exam per year. For those seven years, economically disadvantaged students had all of their AP exams paid for each year. Budget cuts reduced that support to only one AP exam for economically disadvantaged students in May 2011 and that support remains in place for the May 2012 exams.
“Students who earn passing grades on Advanced Placement tests get a jump start on college and, in the long run, they help the state,” Gov. Nathan Deal said in a news release. “These students represent the ‘best and brightest’ and are the future economic engines of Georgia. They also save our colleges and universities money by earning class credits.”
South Carolina also has been working to increase participation in AP courses and exams.
For the Class of 2011, 10,149 graduates participated in AP-level courses, a 67 percent increase from 2001, according to the South Carolina Department of Education.
South Carolina ranks 21st in the nation for students scoring proficient on an AP Exam at 16.5 percent, slightly short of the national average of 18.1 percent. South Carolina students in the class of 2011 took 28,392 exams with 55.6 percent of exams scored as proficient.
South Carolina school-level data were given only in terms of exams taken in the 2010-11 school year, and district-level results were not provided.
In Aiken County, South Aiken High School led the way with 63.5 percent of exams scoring 3 or higher. While South Carolina does not provide data showing the results of groups with five or fewer students Wagener-Salley had fewer than five scores of 3 or higher, and 19 exams were taken; Ridge-Spring Monetta High had only four exams taken, so South Carolina’s reporting rule doesn’t allow for its results to be released.
In Edgefield County, 27.1 percent of AP exams scored 3 or higher. Strom Thurmond High School had 40.9 percent of its exams score in that range, as did 15.4 percent of exams taken at Fox Creek High School.
Since 1984, South Carolina has paid for AP instructional materials, paid students' test fees and offered specialized training for teachers. Every student enrolled in an AP course is required to take the test.