Montgomery Hits A Testing Milestone For Black Students

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Black students in Montgomery County high schools passed 1,062 Advanced Placement tests this year, making the school system the first, along with the New York City public schools, to cross the thousand-test threshold.

Superintendent Jerry D. Weast announced the results yesterday at a news conference. He challenged education leaders to engage in a "friendly competition" to increase AP participation among black students, who remain underrepresented in the college preparatory program.

In the District, the number of AP exams taken by black students rose by nearly 50 percent, though the number of passing scores rose only slightly, the school district reported.

Black students in Prince George's County took 740 more tests than they did last year, a 34 percent increase, and about 100 more exams received passing marks. AP performance among black students in Fairfax County was essentially unchanged.

Montgomery, Fairfax and most other D.C. area school systems have posted tremendous gains in AP testing in this decade, part of a vast expansion nationwide in college-level course work in high schools. Although most school systems remain focused on overall AP results, some districts have publicly campaigned to raise the performance of black students.

"The numbers that you see here are staggering," said Isiah Leggett, the Montgomery county executive. He joined Weast at the event yesterday at Magruder High School in Rockville, which has had substantial gains in minority AP achievement.

A Washington Post analysis of 2006 AP data among large school systems found that only New York City's black students passed more tests than Montgomery's, though the Montgomery school system has far fewer black students.

AP tests are scored on a five-point scale. Passing a test, with a score of 3 or better, signifies that a student has mastered the material and might qualify a student for advanced standing in college.

The Post analysis also found that black students in Montgomery and Fairfax succeed in AP testing at a much higher rate than black students in other districts with comparable or greater numbers of black students. African Americans in the two districts earned passing scores at a rate of more than eight tests for every 100 black students enrolled in high school, which is roughly comparable to the performance of white students in the program as a whole.

Montgomery made substantial gains in 2007: The number of AP tests taken by black students rose from 1,713 to 2,093, and the number of passing tests rose from 851 to 1,062. "So we are raising the bar and closing the gap," Weast said.

AP performance among black students rose significantly in New York, from 987 passing tests in 2006 to 1,257 in 2007, school system officials said yesterday.

Broward County, Fla., the nation's third-ranked district in the Post analysis, also improved, from 686 passing tests last year to 867 this year.

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