• August 29, 2015

Number of AP Test Takers Has Nearly Doubled Since 2001

The number of high-school seniors who took at least one Advanced Placement examination before graduating has almost doubled since 2001, according to the College Board's annual AP report, released on Wednesday.

In 2010, 853,314 graduating seniors at public high schools had taken at least one AP exam. That's an increase of more than 55,000 students since 2009.

The number of students who performed well on the exams—a score of 3 or better—is also up from 2009. In the Class of 2010, 16.9 percent of graduates met that mark on at least one AP exam, a slight increase from 16 percent in 2009. And 12,705 public schools had AP students in 2010, an increase of 165 schools over the year before.

AP scores range from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest and 3 predicting success in college-level coursework, according to the College Board.

The report stresses the importance of mathematics and science exams and cites data from the Harvard Education Press that show that students who take AP math or science exams are more likely than their peers to earn degrees in related fields.

"We need to make sure that we're building the strongest math and science programs in high school so we can really fortify students for what they will experience in college," said Trevor Packer, vice president of the College Board.

However, disparities in students' scores on math and science exams show that many schools struggle to prepare students for AP exams in those areas. Although more than 70 percent of test takers in AP Calculus BC, Computer Science AB, and Physics C: Mechanics received a score of 3 or higher, more than 30 percent of test takers in AP Biology, Calculus AB, Chemistry, Computer Science A, and Environmental Science exams received a 1.

Mr. Packer says some high schools rush students into AP science courses without first putting them through high-school-level biology and chemistry classes, which leads to a high volume of low scores on those exams. The report lists guidelines for the minimum coursework students should complete before enrolling in AP math and science courses.

Closing the Performance Gap

Black students made up 14.6 percent of the 2010 graduating class, but only 3.9 percent of graduates who successfully completed one AP exam. The imbalance for Hispanic students was considerably smaller: Hispanics made up 16.8 percent of the graduating class, and 14.6 percent of students who successfully completed at least one AP exam. Hispanic graduates were most likely to have taken the Spanish Language exam.

Although minority students remain underrepresented in most AP classrooms, some states have reduced inequities for certain minority groups. Sixteen states have closed the performance gap for American Indian/Alaska native students, 14 have done so for Hispanic students, and two states—Hawaii and South Dakota—have done the same for black students. But no state has entirely closed the achievement gap for all underrepresented students.

"We need to focus efforts on preparing students in urban, rural, and low-income schools in the years prior to AP," Mr. Packer said. "That is where a lot of good can be done in helping prepare more underserved students to succeed."

Corrections (2/10, 12:30 p.m.): This article has been updated to correct three errors. In the third paragraph, the 16.9-percent figure refers to graduates in the Class of 2010, not all test takers in 2010. In the ninth paragraph, the 3.9-percent figure refers to the black-student share of graduates who completed one AP exam, not that 3.9 percent of black students completed an exam. Also in that paragraph, a majority of Hispanic test takers did not take the Spanish Language exam, but Hispanic graduates were most likely to have taken it.


1. masilver - February 09, 2011 at 05:50 pm

What percentage of colleges today accept AP classes for credit vs. 2001?

2. arrive2__net - February 09, 2011 at 06:39 pm

The huge increase in the number of test takers may reflect in part the increases in tuition that have occurred in recent years. Given the high level of tuition, seeking credit by alternate means makes a lot of sense. The passing rates of 16.9% is surprisingly low. Dual credit programs would seem to make more sense as a mechanism for earning college credit early.

Bernard Schuster

3. v8573254 - February 10, 2011 at 10:12 am

The article about this in today's "Wall Street Journal" provides interesting counterpoint to this one.

4. greenhills73 - February 10, 2011 at 01:15 pm

So the Hispanic students did well on the AP test of what was for many of them their native language...not too surprising...but what percentage scored well on calculus and physics?

A lot of institutions will only give credit for a '4' or a '5.' Even though it could be because they don't have any comparably low-level course, I wouldn't consider scoring a '3' to be performing well

5. emwhite - February 10, 2011 at 01:50 pm

AP does a world of good for many students and schools. But if we look at where the most good goes, just multiply the number of students by almost a hundred dollars apiece and you see the CB amassing something like (I never took AP math) eighty-five million dollars. Throw in the take from the SAT, which must be even more, and those two programs must add up to over a hundred and fifty million. Not bad for a "non-profit" enterprise still paying low wages to its AP readers. It might be a useful service for the CHE to find out where all of those dollars are going.

6. quicksilver - February 10, 2011 at 02:54 pm

The single biggest problem with this increase is that high schools have aquiesced to parents who demand their child be placed in AP--whether they are capable or not. When I was in high school 20 years ago, the ONLY way to take AP was based on test scores and teacher recommendations. If you didn't have the scores, tough. If your mommy wanted you in AP because your neighbor's kid was in AP, tough. If the CP teacher was not good, tough. I have talked to many counselors who tell me their students are now "self-selecting," into AP. What? Are these guidance directors and principals mad? This story reflects the extent to which educators have lost all ability to do their jobs.

7. greenhills73 - February 10, 2011 at 03:33 pm

A new rule was implemented by a former principal at my children's high school - instead of requiring a teacher or counselor recommendation to enroll in an AP course, they allowed any student to "self-select" an AP course, but if his grade at the semester break was below a 'B' then the student was placed in the regular version of the course. It must have felt awkward for the students who were 'demoted' so to speak, and I think it forced many of those who chose to challenge themselves to work harder at mastering the coursework so they wouldn't be dropped back.

8. 11319762 - February 11, 2011 at 03:55 pm

Fewer univesities are accepting AP courses for college credit. The reason is that high school students spend 30 or more weeks completing the work of a 15 week introductory college course. The colleges have no idea of the qualifications of the teacher of the course, nor of the corrector of the exam. I think that "emwhite" has the root of this nailed, and the students are the ones being shorted in the deal.

9. mchag12 - February 12, 2011 at 10:46 am

The IB seems to have quickly taken over the numbers or AP--I was surprised to see that it was not even mentioned in the article.

10. mbelvadi - February 12, 2011 at 11:02 am

Actually what I found most interesting about this article was the three corrections at the end. Presumably the person who made those mistakes has a college degree, maybe even a post-bachelor's degree. Yet they confused cross-population percentages with within-population percentages three separate times in one short article. You see exactly this kind of error all the time in the popular press and it leads to all kinds of bad interpretation of data and bad decision-making, including false conclusions that lead to unfair policies regarding the treatment of various population subgroups (not just race and gender).
Absolutely no one should be awarded an accredited bachelor's degree without the ability to understand these kinds of statistics, yet most humanities majors will probably never take a course that teaches it.

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