Md. tops U.S. in one measure of AP test performance

Maryland Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick has backed high school exit exams, although some question whether they help graduates in the long run.
Maryland Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick has backed high school exit exams, although some question whether they help graduates in the long run. (By Christopher T. Assaf -- Baltimore Sun Via Associated Press)
By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 11, 2010

Maryland led the nation and Virginia ranked third on a key measure of college readiness, according to a report Wednesday on Advanced Placement test performance by the high school class of 2009.

For the second year in a row, Maryland had the highest percentage of public high school graduates who had passed at least one AP test, and its rate of 24.8 percent far exceeded the national average of 15.9 percent. New York came in second, at 23.8 percent, followed by Virginia, at 22.9 percent.

The rate is considered an important indicator not only of student performance but also of access to college-level curriculum.

Virginia had the biggest five-year gain in the College Board analysis. The state's share of graduating seniors who had passed at least one of the college-level tests was up from 17.1 percent in 2004.

For D.C. public schools, the average for 2009 graduates was 5.8 percent, a 1.1-point drop from the year before.

D.C. schools spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway said that the number of students in all high school grades who pass AP tests is rising significantly in the school system and that officials are expanding AP course offerings and teacher training. "We want all high school students to have access to AP courses and exams," she said.

The results for the graduating seniors in the majority-black D.C. school system conform to a national pattern: The College Board noted that African American students tended to be under-represented among those who had passed an AP test.

"Major initiatives are needed to ensure adequate preparation of students in middle school and ninth and 10th grades so that all students will have an equitable chance at success when they go on to take AP courses and exams later in high school," the report concludes.

The College Board, a nonprofit organization based in New York, oversees the AP and SAT testing programs. A score of 3 or higher on the 5-point scale is considered a passing mark for an AP test and can earn credit at many colleges. The most popular of the three-hour tests are in U.S. history, English literature, English language and calculus.

The report reflects the explosion of interest in AP courses across the country and in the Washington area in particular. It also shows that educators are pushing to expose more students to high-level courses, opening a track long considered the domain of the elite.

"We have an accelerating number of students taking Advanced Placement," said Maryland Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick. "The courses are being taught with fidelity. The students are meeting the expectations of the coursework, and it's revealed in their performance."

Grasmick said the state has sought to identify groups historically under-represented in AP courses, zeroing in on middle-schoolers "who would not necessarily be the stars, but rather solid students," and seeking to prepare them for demanding coursework. She said advances have been made throughout the state.

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