More Students Taking The Exams
February 9, 2011
By Grace E. Merritt
Connecticut has the fourth-highest rate of all high school seniors in the nation who have taken and passed at least one Advanced Placement exam, according to a report The College Board released Wednesday.
The College Board, which runs the AP program, reports that 33.2 percent of Connecticut’s public school seniors have taken AP exams, with more than 70 percent of them scoring a passing grade or 3, 4 or 5.
“It’s a lot of good news in Connecticut, which has seen nearly one out of four students complete AP tests in high school successfully,” said Sue Landers, executive director of the AP program for The College Board.
The number of seniors in Connecticut who passed AP exams in the last 10 years has gone from 14.8 percent of the class of 2001 to 23.2 percent of the class of 2010.
Through the Advanced Placement program, high school students take college-level courses in many subject areas to earn college credit, possibly skipping introductory college courses and so potentially reducing the cost of college.
The tests are scored on a scale of 1 to 5, with scores of 3, 4 and 5 considered to be passing. However, some selective colleges won’t accept anything but a 5 for college credit.
Overall, 11,952 students in the class of 2010 took an AP exam during their high school years in Connecticut, compared with 11,186 last year. Of those who took the exams, 8,629 scored a passing grade.
The vast majority of students who took the tests were white, although the number of white students who took the tests has decreased slightly. The number of minority and low-income students who took exams increased slightly, but they still represent a small fraction of test-takers.
A closer look at Connecticut results show:
– Among whites, who represent 70.8 percent of the student population, 72.2 percent took the exam and 77 percent of those got a passing score.
– Among Latinos, who represent 12.3 percent of the population, 7.9 percent took the exams; of those 6.4 percent got a passing score.
– Among black students, who represent 12 percent of the student population, 5.7 percent took the exam; of those 2.4 percent earned a passing score.
– More low-income students are taking AP classes with 10.9 percent taking the exams compared with 8.9 percent last year. Of those who took a test, 6.9 percent got a passing score.
State education and business leaders have taken several steps to encourage greater participation in the college-level courses.
“We have worked in particular with our urban superintendents to see an increase in access to the courses,” said state Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy. “We have also been supportive in training teachers to be AP teachers.”
In addition, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association has secured grants to encourage more participation in inner cities, Murphy said.
Finally, newly passed school reform legislation will require all high schools in Connecticut to offer at least one AP course and provide access to the exam.
“We believe that higher-level course work should be available to all students who have an interest and a passion to pursue it,” Murphy said. “It is an important component of raising standards and achievement levels.”
A state report analyzing AP test trends found West Hartford had the highest number of AP test-takers in the state, with 903 students taking at least one exam last year. Stamford followed with 664 students and Greenwich was third at 574 students.
The percentage of students with passing test scores of 3, 4 or 5 ranged from 100 percent at Westbrook High School and 98 percent at Ellington High School to none at Weaver High School in Hartford and the Amistad Academy Charter High School in New Haven.
While students technically pass the AP test with a score of 3, 4 or 5, some experts say it is increasingly important to get a top score of 5.
“The days of getting 3’s and 4’s are great to tell your uncle about at family gatherings but they don’t necessarily guarantee either credit or advanced placement at colleges anymore,” said Steven Roy Goodman, a Washington, D.C.-based educational consultant who guides families through the college admissions process.
The percentage of high school students who score a 5 on AP exams varies widely by district, according to results released by the state Department of Education. Fairfield County school districts logged high percentages of 5’s, while urban areas were significantly smaller. For example, 45.2 percent of Darien high school students who took an AP exam scored a 5, compared with 3.9 percent of Hartford students in 2010. West Hartford fell between the two, with 21.5 percent of those taking an exam earning a 5.
Colleges increasingly have become more stringent about accepting AP courses for college credit because they are more uncertain about whether students really are capable of doing the work and are ready for college-level courses, Goodman said. In addition, he said, it isn’t in a college’s financial interest to accept lots of AP credits because it means that those incoming students don’t need to take – and pay for – as many college courses.
But Landers, of the College Board, said that 90 percent of colleges and universities offer some form of credit for AP courses.
“Certainly some selective colleges have restricted their credit policies to a 5,” she said, “but there’s a large number of universities out there that have not done that.”