Florida high school students took Advanced Placement courses and passed the tough AP exams last year in greater numbers than ever before, according to a new national report released this morning.
Florida was ranked fourth in the nation — up two places from last year — based on the percentage of its 2012 graduates who had passed at least one AP exam while in high school, according to the College Board’s ninth annual “AP Report to the Nation.”
Among last spring’s graduating class, 27.3 percent of students left with a successful AP score — a 3 or better on the 5-level exams — compared to just under 24 percent for the Class of 2011. Nationally, AP participation and success has increased, too, with the percentage of graduates earning at least one good score at 19.5 percent across the country.
Maryland, New York and Massachusetts were the top three states for AP success.
Since 2000, Florida has pushed schools to offer more AP classes, meant to mimic introductory college courses, as a way to challenge students and better prepare them for post-secondary academics. Classes once restricted only to a high school’s top students were opened to many more teenagers, who can earn college credit with AP scores of 3 or higher.
Florida led the nation last year in the percentage of students taking an AP exam and has earned praise as student success has jumped significantly in the last decade. More Florida graduates aced an AP exam in 2012 than sat for the tests in 2002. Hispanic students, considered “underserved” by AP nationwide, have shined in Florida, succeeding on AP exams in high numbers.
“There’s something really powerful happening with Florida’s AP initiative,” said Trevor Packer, senior vice president of the College Board’s AP program.
There are nearly 40 AP courses in a range of subjects, from calculus to environmental science to U.S. history. The most popular in Florida last year was English language and composition. Though the state wants more students to pursue studies in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math), relatively few Florida students took AP courses in those disciplines compared to English, history and social science courses.
And despite the state’s overall success, there are some troubling concerns about AP Florida’s high schools.
Fifty-six percent of the exam scores from last year’s class were 1s or 2s, with more than 32 percent of those at the lowest level. That shows students did not master the concepts and skills taught in the class. In recent years, some educators have questioned the value of students taking classes they are not ready to tackle.
Florida high schools routinely schedule ninth-graders into some AP classes, though the practice is discouraged by the College Board because the failure rate is so high. Many Florida schools, for example, enroll freshmen in AP human geography, where nearly 49 percent of students scored a 1, recent data shows.
The College Board said its classes are mostly for upper classmen, though it has found that 10th-raders typically do well in a few AP history courses.
The state started a partnership with the College Board in 1999 to increase AP participation and has helped that effort by paying for students’ exam fees and by giving teachers bonuses when their students do well.
Education Commissioner Tony Bennett called the latest report “very encouraging news” in a statement released by his office.
“This report shows that years of hard work on the part of Florida’s teachers are producing results. Florida’s students are clearly graduating high school better prepared for college, careers and life,” Bennett said.
More than 39,000, or 27.3 percent, of Florida high school graduates left school in 2012 with at least one successful AP score. In 2002, about 17,250, or 14.4 percent, did.
Florida State University was featured in the national report, with university officials saying they liked to see AP courses on a high school student’s transcript. Such classes show students are challenging themselves, they said, and, once they start college, students with AP in high school post higher grade-point averages than those who never took the courses.
Florida stands out as a state that has managed to get “underserved” students into AP classes, particularly its Hispanic students, the College Board said.
In the Sunshine State, Hispanic students take and pass AP exams at a percentage that is greater than their overall population.
While some have questioned if their success is because so many Hispanic teenagers take the AP Spanish language exam, Packer said the College Board has stripped out those scores and found that in Florida, Hispanic students still succeed in AP.
“Florida’s performance is still tremendous,” he added.
The state’s efforts to expand access to AP classes does mean it is “taking risks on large number of students,” which is why so many students struggle on the AP exams, he said.