Data released yesterday by the College Board as part of The 9th Annual AP Report to the Nation revealed that more high school graduates are participating — and succeeding — in college-level AP courses and exams than ever before. Succeeding in AP is defined as achieving a score of 3 or higher on the five-point AP Exam scale, which is the score needed for credit, advanced placement or both at the majority of colleges and universities.
Among the class of 2012:
- The number of high school graduates taking AP Exams increased to 954,070, (32.4%), up from 904,794 (30.2%) among the class of 2011 and 471,404 (18.0%) in 2002 among the class of 2002.
- The number of high school graduates scoring a 3 or higher increased to 573,472 (19.5%), up from 541,000 (18.1%) among the class of 2011 and 305,098 (11.6%) among the class of 2002.
Among 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. Such “AP potential” is defined as a 60 percent or greater probability of scoring a 3 or higher on an AP Exam based on a student’s performance on specific sections of the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®). These data revealed significant inequities in AP participation along racial/ethnic lines, with underserved minority students who demonstrated readiness for AP much less likely than their similarly prepared white and Asian/Asian American/Pacific Islander peers to experience AP course work.
Among the contributing factors, a significant cause for this disparity is the lower availability of a variety of AP courses in schools with higher numbers of low-income and traditionally underserved minority students.
Collaborating to Promote STEM Education
While the challenge to improve equity and access applies to all AP courses, its importance is amplified among the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines. Research shows that students who took college-level AP math or science exams during high school were more likely than non-AP students to earn degrees in physical science, engineering and life science disciplines — the fields leading to some of the careers essential for the nation’s future prosperity.
In the last decade, the number of students graduating from high school having taken an AP math or science exam has nearly doubled, from 250,465 in the class of 2002 to 497,924 in the class of 2012 (see Figure 8). However, among students with comparable levels of readiness for AP STEM course work, participation rates vary significantly by race/ethnicity and gender. Six in 10 Asian/Asian American/Pacific Islander students with a 60 percent or higher likelihood of succeeding on an AP mathematics exam took the exam, compared to 4 in 10 white students, 3 in 10 black/African American students, 3 in 10 Hispanic/Latino students, and 2 in 10 American Indian/Alaska Native students. In most AP STEM subjects, female students participate at lower rates than male students.
In order for more students to succeed in college, they need preparation for and access to demanding college-level work while still in high school. Since 2002, there has been a 7.9 point increase in the percentage of U.S. public high school graduates scoring a 3 or higher on an AP Exam. Among the class of 2012, 19.5 percent of U.S. public high school graduates scored a 3 or higher on an AP Exam during high school, with 17 states exceeding the national average. Once again, Maryland led all other states in the percentage of its public high school graduates scoring a 3 or higher on an AP Exam.
Top 10 States in Percentage of 2012 Public High School Graduates Succeeding on AP Exam
- Maryland (29.6%)
- New York (28.0%)
- Massachusetts (27.9%)
- Florida (27.3%)
- Virginia (27.2%)
- Connecticut (26.9%)
- Maine (24.8%)
- California (24.7%)
- Colorado (24.2%)
- Vermont (22.8%)
Though challenges remain, progress is being made to close equity gaps in AP participation and success among underserved minority and low-income students. Consider the following:
- 30 states made progress over the past year in closing both AP participation and success gaps among black/African American students (see Figure 6a).
- 17 states and the District of Columbia made progress over the past year in closing both AP participation and success gaps among Hispanic/Latino students (see Figure 6b).
- Low-income graduates accounted for 26.6% of those who took at least one AP Exam in the class of 2012, compared to 11.5% of AP Exam takers in the class of 2003.
- More than 250,000 low-income graduates in the class of 2012 took at least one AP Exam during high school, more than four times as many low-income graduates who took an AP Exam in the class of 2003.