Blacks in Fairfax, Montgomery Outdo U.S. Peers in AP

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Black students in Montgomery and Fairfax high schools are far more successful in Advanced Placement testing than their peers in nine of the 10 school systems in the nation with the largest black populations, according to a Washington Post analysis.

Participation in the AP program has more than doubled in 10 years. But this surge in college-preparatory testing has not reached most African American students, according to a review of 2006 exam results in 30 school systems with about 5,000 or more black high school students.

Still, black students in both Montgomery and Fairfax counties passed AP tests in spring 2006 at the rate of more than eight tests for every 100 black students enrolled in the high school grades, the analysis found.

That is far greater than the success rate of African Americans nationwide, who produced about one passing AP test for every 100 students. None of the other school systems studied produced successful AP tests at even half the rate of Maryland's and Virginia's largest school systems.

Jerry D. Weast, Montgomery's superintendent, said that the county's black students generated a larger number of passing AP tests last year -- 851 exams from 10,326 students -- than any other school system in the nation except New York City, although they trail whites and Asians in Montgomery.

AP experts believe Weast, although the claim is difficult to prove, because each system's scores are proprietary. School districts provided their AP data to The Post.

"Eight years ago, we started knocking down barriers and eliminating prerequisites so more African American students could enroll in rigorous AP courses," Weast said, "because the bottom line is that AP is the way to go. It is the best way to prepare kids for success in college."

Fairfax, with 5,771 black high school students, had 494 passing tests from African Americans.

The AP program began in 1955 as a means for top high school students to take college courses. A national surge in AP testing began in the late 1990s as a quest for greater rigor for a broader spectrum of high school students. Participation among black students has tripled in 10 years. But the numbers were so low 10 years ago that by 2006, none of the largest school systems in the country could meet the goal of having 1,000 passing tests from black students.

In the 1 million-student New York City system, the nation's largest, black students produced 987 AP tests that earned scores of 3 or higher on the five-point AP grading scale in 2006. Philadelphia yielded 144 passing AP tests from black students. District schools had 108.

Four other school systems in the Washington and Baltimore suburbs with large black populations -- Prince George's County, Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County in Maryland and Prince William County in Virginia -- each outperformed black students in the nation as a whole in AP testing, although none approached the national average for all public school students.

Baltimore City, on the other hand, yielded only 90 passing AP tests from a population of more than 20,000 black high school students.

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