• Public colleges in Florida guarantee the same credit to students successful in AP. Most states dont have a statewide policy.
• Florida Virtual School offers more AP courses than other online schools.
As a result, the number of students in AP courses which cover more than 30 subjects has nearly tripled over the past decade.
Diversity among students has grown, something many say is a strength of Floridas program. Dade and Broward got the No. 1 and 3 spots in the country for Hispanic students AP work in 2011. For black students, Broward ranked No. 2, Dade seventh.
Trevor Packer, who heads the AP program at the College Board, said Florida has the most equitable representation of minority students in AP.
In 2011, nearly 25 percent of graduating seniors in Florida were Hispanic, and slightly more than 25 percent of successful AP students were Hispanic the same year, according to the College Board.
Its a really a remarkable journey, he said.
Some South Florida schools can boast average scores that beat national averages, like Palmetto Senior High with 64 percent of test-takers passing the exam and Cypress Bay High in Weston with 88 percent.
But success is uneven. At Miami Norland, about 3 percent of test-takers passed in 2012. At Dillard High, one in 10.
Contributing to the higher enrollment: More sophomores and freshmen even middle schoolers are taking the college-level classes and exams. So at Coral Reef, students, from freshmen to seniors, pack classrooms on Saturdays in the spring for exam prep. There arent enough desks, and some kids sit on the floor. To prepare, some teachers hold Jeopardy-style games. Others drill questions. Some cram notes on white boards in tiny, precise print.
Last year, then freshmen Kshitij Kulkarni and Joselyn Gonzalez, took the AP exam in human geography. Four years out from college, do they really care about getting college credit?
The answer: a resounding yes.
I actually wanted to take it because it would give me college credit and give me more experience in AP classes, Kshitij said.
Joselyn wanted a 5 the top score because it looks better on college applications and means you actually understand the subject. If you dont [pass], youre wasting your time, she said.
AP was designed for high school juniors and seniors. So while the College Board remains neutral on enrolling 10th-graders, the group generally discourages freshmen from participating.
The ninth-grade students have not developed the writing skills and other skills that are essential to taking a college course, Packer said. Its like speeding college up by four years rather than one or two years. We would prefer they would fund and focus efforts on the foundational skills that would prepare them for college-level course later on.
Adrian Alvarez took AP classes at Miami Killian, but said the work he encountered afterward at the University of Miami was a shock.
The classes that best prepared him focused more on final tests and essays, rather than homework assignments. In some AP classes, students could boost their grade with homework, which gave somewhat an inflated grade, making it seem that they were more well prepared for college than they actually were, Alvarez, 21, said.
Even with AP classes in English literature and biology, Alvarez struggled his first semester in those subjects. He ended up dropping biology. On his first college essay, the professor wrote the directions to UMs writing center.
I felt insulted somewhat, Alvarez recalled. It motivated him to prove he was a good writer. Afterward, he never got less than an A-minus on essays. You learn more when you fail than when you succeed, he added.
Miami Herald staff writer Michael Vasquez contributed to this report. This article also includes comments from members of The Miami Heralds Public Insight Network. To learn more about the network or to join, visit MiamiHerald.com/insight.