New York has the country's highest percentage of high school students to pass college-level Advanced Placement exams, with 22.7 percent. But every state has managed to boost the number of students passing the rigorous tests, a new study shows.
States have been pushing to increase access to AP tests as part of a larger drive to make high school more rigorous and better prepare students for college. Students need to score a 3 on a scale of 5 to pass the exams, which test 37 subjects ranging from history to Latin to Music Theory. Some colleges award credits for high scores.
After New York, the states of Maryland, Utah and Virginia have the highest proportion of students passing AP tests, according to a report released Feb. 6 by the College Board , which administers the AP exam as well as the college-entrance SAT exam. Maryland, Delaware and North Carolina made the biggest gains in passing scores from 2000 to 2006.
"It can be done. It's a matter of belief, it's a matter of high expectations, it's a matter of investment. And it doesn't start when you're a junior in high school. It starts much earlier," Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, said at a news conference.
Minority performance also has improved on the AP tests. Since 2000, 45 states have increased the percentage of black students taking the tests, while all states have increased the percentage of Latino students taking them. Figures for Native American students have remained flat.
Thirteen states have eliminated any gap between the percentage of Hispanics taking AP tests and the group's numbers in the overall student population. Another two states with sizable Latino populations - California and Texas - are close to raising Hispanic students' participation enough to close the gap, the study found.
However, no state with a large black or Native American student population is close to closing its gap, according to the report.
Nationwide, 14.8 percent of the class of 2006 passed an AP test, up from 10 percent in 2000, the College Board reported.
Florida was praised in the report for its recent efforts, which include rewarding teachers for putting in extra work to help students with the exams. Florida showed a dramatic increase in scores in the past seven years, especially among the state's Latino students.
Last year Arkansas and New Hampshire reported the highest one-year increase in passing scores. For Arkansas the boost was largely the result of a 2004 law that required every school district to offer at least one AP course by the 2005-06 school year, and to offer four courses by 2008-09. The state also provides money for its teachers to go to an AP professional development summer camp.
The National Governors Association is currently working with six states - Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada and Wisconsin - to provide more challenging instruction by expanding access to the AP test. According to NGA policy analyst David Wakelyn, AP course enrollment has increased 27 percent in those states since last year.