Utah kids didn't take and pass as many Advanced Placement tests last school year as they did the previous year, and achievement gaps between ethnic minorities and whites persisted. But their performance beat national averages, almost across the board.

The College Board released both AP and SAT college entrance test results Tuesday. Both show Utah students edging national averages, with Skyline and Davis high schools at the top of the class for SAT participation and AP participation and scores, respectively.

But with such a rosy showing, why all the talk about high school graduates being unprepared for college, and even the workforce?

First, AP tests:

Just under 15,000 Utah students took 24,183 AP exams. All but about 900 are from public schools. Nearly 66 percent passed, compared to 59.3 percent nationally.

But Utah pass rates are down from last year by 3.2 percent overall, and by varying degrees in each ethnic group. So are participation rates, which have fallen 3.8 percent in Utah.

Nationally, participation is up 9.5 percent and pass rates rose by 9 percent overall, with varied increases in each ethnic group as well.

But there are achievement gaps between whites and ethnic minorities.

Utah students identifying themselves as Caucasians passed 67 percent of tests, versus a 63 percent pass rate posted for Asians, 53 percent for Hispanics, 51 percent for American Indians and 40 percent for blacks.

Nationally, however, Utah compares well. Utah Caucasians beat the national pass rate by 3 percentage points. Hispanics (a group including Mexican American, Puerto Rican and other Hispanics) outperformed the national average by 10 percentage points, American Indians by 7 percentage points.

Only Utah Asians defied the trend, with a 63 percent pass rate versus 66 percent nationally.

Those identifying themselves as "other" ethnicity (less than 2 percent of test takers) posted a 73 percent pass rate; those who didn't respond (10 percent of test takers) passed 61 percent of tests they took.

"We are charged with educating all the kids in Utah — that still needs work," said Mark Peterson, spokesman for the State Office of Education. "There are achievement gaps that need to be filled, and they need to be filled by bringing poor and minority students up."

Davis High school is No. 1 in the state for AP participation — 1,345 tests taken — and pass scores, with an 83.5 percent rate. The marks are a feather in Davis' cap, a tribute to teachers and students, principal Rulon Homer said. He also acknowledges AP "is just one piece of the big picture of what you're doing, and it accounts for one group of kids."

So, says Peterson, is Utah's showing on the SAT.

Utah students scored 1,658 on the SAT's reading, math and writing exams, compared to the national average 1,511, College Board reports. Utah's performance, however, represents a 9-point drop from last year, and a national drop of 7 points, the State Office of Education reports.

Just over half — 56 percent — of test takers are from public schools; they averaged 1,737.

The SAT has relatively few Utah participants, about 6 percent of seniors, ranking Utah 42nd in the country, tied with Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Wisconsin, the State Office of Education reported. By comparison, 70 percent of Utah's some 38,000 seniors took the ACT college entrance exam, primarily used by Western colleges and universities.

Skyline High School led in SAT participation, with 107 students, followed by West (91 students) Park City (63), Brighton (55) and Viewmont (46) high schools.

"While it's great that the scores are that good, and particularly for public school students that are that good, it's really not indicative of the population of the whole," Peterson said. "It is indicative of our best and brightest going to compete against the best and the brightest in the country."

While those students likely will be prepared for college — though some, including the group FairTest, question whether the SAT is a good predictor of college success — the Utah System of Higher Education is worried about the rest of Utah's high school students, spokeswoman Amanda Covington said.

"There's still a population out there that's not considering college preparation at all," Covington said. "We're really worried about not only how well prepared (these test takers are) and how well they're going to do ... but those who are not taking these tests."

The idea is, rigorous coursework leads to more prepared college students — and workforce.

Higher education brass are trying to reach the middle-of-the-road students through the Utah Scholars program, which pushes middle school students to take rigorous classes to better prepare for life. Leaders are meeting with religious, business and community leaders to help forward the preparedness message. The Web site, utahmentor.org, created with public education, also offers students preparatory tests, a place to apply for colleges and financial aid, learn about scholarships and plan a career path.

"School needs to be rigorous," said principal Homer, who urges sophomores at orientation to seize every opportunity they can. "We live in a day and an age where kids need a solid, solid foundation in academics to go out there and compete."


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