College-ready AP exam scores dip in Montgomery County, but more tests are taken

Montgomery County’s high school students took more Advanced Placement (AP) exams, in the spring, than ever before, but the percentage of tests showing college-ready scores dipped, particularly among African-American and Latino students, according to data released Friday.

In figures likely to further heighten concerns about the achievement gap, the share of college-ready exam scores among black students dropped from 51.8 percent in spring 2012 to 47 percent this spring , a decline of nearly 5 percentage points.

Similarly, for Latino students, the percentage of exams with such scores fell by four points, from 60 percent to 56 percent.

AP courses are considered an important mark of preparedness for higher education, and success on AP exams — given across a range of subjects — is viewed favorably by college admissions officers and may lead to college credit. College readiness is indicated by scores of three points or higher on a five-point scale.

Among Montgomery’s white students, the percentage of exams with such scores slipped from 81.3 to 79.6 percent. Exam scores for Asian students were fairly flat, with 78.6 percent deemed college-ready, up from 78.2 percent.

Taken together across student groups, the new numbers showed a 2 percentage-point dip — from 75 percent to 73 percent — from 2012 to 2013.

School officials noted that, even with the downtrend, performance was better than in 2011, when 71.8 percent of exams showed college-ready scores.

They also emphasized that exam success compares favorably to students in Maryland and the nation. Montgomery’s numbers on college-ready scores are nearly 13 percentage points better than the state’s and 16 points than the nation’s.

Montgomery Superintendent of Schools Joshua P. Starr said in a statement Friday that he was pleased by a high level of success, but that the numbers also point to “significant gaps in performance that must be addressed if we are going to successfully prepare our students to thrive in their futures.”

School spokesman Dana Tofig said the AP scores would be used to inform conversations about teaching and learning. He also noted that since 2008, AP participation is significantly up among black and Hispanic students, while the percentage of exams scoring a 3 or higher is very similar.

The new numbers show students took 33,642 AP exams last spring , an increase of 2 percent compared to a year earlier, which school officials said reflected a concerted effort to provide greater access to such tests.

Last spring, African-American students took 3,297 exams, up from 3,106 a year earlier. Latino students took 4,253 exams, compared to 4,016 a year earlier.

Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.
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