The Advanced Placement program is a series of 37 college-level courses students take in high school, for which they may receive college credit. The nationally administered AP exam is scored on a scale of 1 to 5, with 3 being considered a passing score.
Mostly, the newspapers have emphasized their own states’ performance on the exam. Because the College Board administered approximately 10% more tests in 2008 than it did in 2007, the newspapers have reported the good news that more of their respective states’ kids passed the exam than the year before. Makes sense. If approximately ten percent more students take the tests each year (as has been happening with the AP exams for well over a decade), you can expect that more will pass.
Some newspapers have chosen to concentrate on the negative aspect of the Report- the fact that blacks, especially, are underrepresented in the AP test numbers and that those minority black and Hispanic students who do take the tests have much lower passing percentages than their white and Asian counterparts.
Despite that good news, it is impossible to ignore the racial performance gap. The percentage of all graduating seniors taking an AP exam who passed at least one AP exam during their high school years was 61%- the same percentage as in 2007. Of the over 2.1 million exams taken by students who graduated last year, 57% earned passing scores- the same percentage as in 2007. Contrast that with exams taken by blacks and Hispanics. Though underrepresented in the exam-taking pool, only 25.5% of exams taken by black students earned passing scores and only 42% of Hispanic exams passed. In addition, the Hispanic student numbers are somewhat misleading because so many of the passing scores were earned on a single exam- the Advanced Placement Spanish test.
AP is the country’s largest accelerated high school curricula. A primary goal of our late middle school and early high school programs should be to insure that more and more of our students are prepared to tackle it. That will mean beefing up pre-AP services to our non-Asian minority students.