Pair Crack AP Test Barrier

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 1, 2006

For the first time in four years, a student at Potomac High School in Prince George's County has passed an Advanced Placement test.

Two students, actually.

The school's feat -- two passing grades out of 55 AP tests, taken in the spring -- may not seem like much. But no one at the Oxon Hill school had passed one of the college-level exams since 2002. Last year, 59 of 60 tests taken at Potomac drew a score of 1, the lowest on the 5-point scale.

Christina Martinez, 16, still hasn't quite come to terms with the celebrity she earned by scoring a 3 on her AP English language test.

"All these teachers I've never met know my name," she said, speaking by telephone from her after-school job. "The vice principal hugged me one day."

AP, a curriculum that challenges high school students with college-level work, has become so pervasive in the region that many students and teachers take success for granted. Just 30 miles away, in the affluent suburb of Potomac, Winston Churchill High School produced 1,453 passing AP exams last year.

But each year, there are schools in Prince George's and the District that fail to yield a single passing score.

At the other Potomac, a campus just east of the Southeast Washington line, the news that two students had passed AP tests drew thunderous applause when it was announced at a staff meeting last week.

The school gave slightly fewer AP tests this year than last but had much better results: two exams earned a 3 and six more received a 2, a score considered worthy by the test publisher, the College Board.

The staff, and particularly the AP teachers, had worn a badge of shame the past three years. Although academicians say participation in rigorous course work is an end in itself, AP teachers largely measure success in terms of the pass rate on the exam that ends the course. A score of 3 is almost universally regarded as the cutoff; it is generally the lowest score required to earn college credit.

Christopher Budano, the school's testing coordinator, told Martinez and the other student -- whose name school officials did not release for privacy reasons -- how excited everyone was about their scores on the AP English language test. He suspects the gravity of the event escaped them.

"I don't believe they understand the ramifications that they have kicked open the ceiling on the test," he said yesterday.

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