An increasing number of D.C. Public Schools students are taking and scoring well on Advanced Placement exams, the College Board reported this week.
More than 2,200 students took at least one AP exam this year, an increase of 25 percent since 2008. The greatest growth was among Hispanic, white and female students.
And though the percentage of “passing”exams — i.e. those that earn at least 3 points on a 5-point scale — in DCPS still trails the national average, it has jumped 40 percent over the last five years.
Those changes come two years after the school system began requiring all high schools to offer at least four AP courses, a measure meant to extend the high-level courses to more students.
“In our strategic five-year plan, we made it a goal to double the number of advanced students at DCPS. With the news in this report, it is clear we are on track toward success,” Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said in a statement. “I fundamentally believe our students have the grit and determination to make this district one of the best performing in the country. We are well on our way to proving that is possible.”
The D.C. trend mirrors a national push to increase participation in Advanced Placement courses, particularly among groups of students who historically weren’t encouraged to take such advanced courses. More than 1.8 million students took AP exams nationwide in 2012, up 35 percent from 2008.
There are many reasons for the growth, including that high AP participation has come to be seen — in no small part because of the annual secondary school rankings put out by my colleague Jay Mathews — as a mark of a good school.
Also, students can earn college credit for high AP exam scores, and a transcript pocked with AP courses is often attractive to college admissions officials.
Bob Schaeffer of FairTest, a Boston-based advocacy group that is critical of standardized testing, said his organization has no objection to AP courses (and exams) as long as they “serve as a gateway to higher education for disadvantaged teenagers rather than a gatekeeper impeding access to higher education for those who attend under-resourced schools that cannot afford to offer” them.
The most important question for urban school systems such as DCPS, he said, is whether boosting AP course enrollment is the best use of scarce resources.
“With tightly constrained finances, is it better to spend the limited funds available on offering more challenging AP courses to a relative few,” he wrote in an e-mail, “or would the same money have more of an impact invested in improving educational quality for the larger body of the city’s public school students.”
Of the 2,200 DCPS test-takers in 2012, 675 passed at least one AP exam — 85 percent more students than passed in 2008. The number of Hispanic students passing at least one exam grew faster than average — from 44 students in 2008 to 125 in 2012, or an increase of 184 percent.
The College Board will release more comprehensive data on Advanced Placement results early next year.