The Washington Post

More Fairfax students taking AP, IB exams

More Fairfax County students — and particularly more Hispanic and black students — are taking college-level AP and IB exams, according to data released by the school system.

Between 2010 and 2011, the number of students taking AP exams rose about 5 percent to 16,162. While the great bulk (13,249) were white and Asian students, the number of Hispanic AP test-takers rose 39 percent (to 1,413) and the number of black test-takers went up about 15 percent (to 835).

Students can earn college credit if they pass an AP exam with a score of 3, 4 or 5 or an IB test with a 4, 5, 6 or 7. Passing rates did not change substantially despite increased enrollment. More particulars are available on the school system’s Web site.


Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Dale (Matt McClain/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Expanding access to such high-level courses has been a key aim of Superintendent Jack D. Dale and his staff.

The school system has nudged students toward AP and IB courses in part by eliminating certain mid-level honors courses, leaving students with a choice between standard-level courses and the college-level track.

“We’ve found that traditionally underrepresented minorities do not access the most-rigorous track when three tracks are offered. But when two tracks are offered, they do,” Peter Noonan, Fairfax’s assistant superintendent for instructional services, told my colleague Kevin Sieff last year.

The move away from honors mirrors a national trend toward democratizing advanced courses. But in Fairfax, it has provoked criticism from parents who say that students need a middle choice. Without an honors tier, activists have argued, many students choose to drop to a standard course rather than take on the added burden of an AP or IB class.

Restoring honors courses was a frequent subject of debates in last fall’s school board campaign, and several board members have promised to bring the issue up for consideration as early as this month.

“We’re hopeful now with the new board members, several of whom ran on this issue in support of honors, that we’ll have the number of votes needed to make it happen,” said Megan McLaughlin, a parent activist who was elected to the board’s Braddock seat in November.

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