Number of students taking AP exams increases

Published: Monday, Feb. 13 2012 12:29 p.m. MST

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The number of students taking and passing AP tests is on the rise. A record 18.1 percent of students from the class of 2011 took AP exams compared to 16.9 percent for graduates the year before, according to the 8th Annual AP Report. Maryland ranks first for test takers achieving a score of 3 or better, with 28 percent of their students taking the test. Following Maryland in the top 10 is New York, followed by Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Florida, California, Colorado, Vermont and Utah.

Yet the report reveals some troubling facts. As the number of students taking AP exams increases, so to do failure rates. From 2010 to 2011 the number of students taking the biology AP exam rose by 7.8 percent and the number of students taking the physics B exam rose 11 percent, reports Education Week. Yet, almost half of the students who take the AP biology exam fail it. The outcomes are similar in physics B, chemistry and English literature and composition, according to figures compiled by Total Registration, an organization that helps schools coordinate student enrollment in AP exams.

The AP report shows how this trend is particularly pronounced among non-Asian minorities, who are taking and failing the tests at a much higher rate than a decade ago. Nearly three-fourths of black students failed their exams in 2011, along with 58 percent of native Americans and 60 percent of hispanics. Compare that with the 35 percent of Asian-Americans who scored a 1 or 2.

In addition to soaring failure rates, the annual AP report notes that many students who, based on PSAT, scores have the academic potential to succeed in Advanced Placement exams didn't take them, either by choice or because they attended a school that did not offer the subject, reports Mitch Smith for Inside Higher Ed. Using data from the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test Smith found that of the 771,000 students in the class of 2011 who scored well enough to be considered ready for AP, nearly 478,000 (62 percent) did not take an AP exam.

Educators aren’t sure what to make of the data. It’s really a complex situation,” said Trevor Packer, senior vice president for AP and college readiness for the College Board. It is difficult to reconcile data that on “one hand says some minority groups are failing AP tests at growing rates and on the other says many qualified minorities aren’t enrolling in the classes,” writes Mitch Smith.

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