- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2005

High school students at a Virginia school and in the states of New York and Maryland lead the nation in exam scores for the academically rigorous Advanced Placement college-preparation program, according to a report issued yesterday by the College Board.

Those students are in the pipeline for admission to the country’s best colleges and get college credit for high school AP courses that can save as much as a year’s tuition during four years of college study for an undergraduate degree, said Trevor Packer, executive director of the AP program in New York.

The College Board reported that Asian students did best on AP tests, while black students fared worst — although black performance has improved in recent years.

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Annandale leads the country’s large schools with more than 1,000 students in eight of 34 Advanced Placement programs by “helping the widest segment of their total school population attain college-level mastery” in subjects ranging from AP biology to U.S. government and politics, said “Advanced Placement Report to the Nation 2005.”

Thomas Jefferson, a Northern Virginia regional governor’s school serving eight counties and cities, accepts students based on entrance exams similar to college SAT tests. “It’s a very select, highly motivated student body with huge parental involvement, excellent and very well-trained teachers and counselors,” said Nina Pitkin, the school’s director of student services.

New York topped the nation with more than one-fifth of its 2004 high school graduates having scored 3 or higher on one or more AP exams.

The highest score of 5 on an AP exam is equivalent to high A-level performance in college or “extremely well-qualified”; 4 represents midlevel A to midlevel B or “well qualified”; 3 is midlevel B to midlevel C or “qualified”; and 2 is midlevel C to midlevel D or “possibly qualified.”

Maryland schools ranked second with almost one-fifth of the state’s 2004 high school graduates scoring 3 or higher on AP exams. Virginia ranked seventh with 17.7 percent of its graduates making top-level scores.

Nationally, more than 350,000, or 13.2 percent of graduating high school seniors, made the higher AP scores last year — a rise from 10.2 percent in 2000, said Gaston Caperton, College Board president in a press conference.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings praised the report, saying it “provides further proof that our children respond when we challenge them academically. I am pleased to see more and more high school students are embracing the rigors of Advanced Placement coursework.”

However, Mrs. Spellings added, “Too many of our high school students graduate without the skills needed to succeed in college. As a result, 40 percent of students entering four-year colleges and universities require some remedial education.”

The College Board report noted that 63 percent of students at two-year community colleges need remedial courses.

“By raising standards and expectations, our students will learn more, become better prepared for college and the workplace and expand their intellectual horizons,” Mrs. Spellings said.

The report shows that “more high school students than ever before are succeeding on college-level AP exams that are more rigorous than ever before,” Mr. Caperton said. “When students are challenged in high school, they gain the confidence to go to college and succeed once there.”

AP courses give high school students “a taste of college while still in an environment that is more intimate and nurturing than the large lecture halls where introductory college courses are frequently taught,” Mr. Packer said.

However, the report also highlighted serious “equity” and student achievement issues pointing to the need to reinvigorate America’s middle and high schools, particularly in rural areas and dense urban areas with large minority populations.

“Significant performance gaps between white, Asian and traditionally underserved minority students call for ongoing efforts to invest in the preparation of students in their middle school and early high school years, helping them sequentially develop the skills and content mastery needed to succeed in the college-level AP courses,” the report said.

cBlack students comprise just 6 percent of all AP students nationally, although they are 13.2 percent of the total student population. Hispanics, representing about 13 percent of all students, are also about 13 percent of students in AP classes. Asians, with 5 percent of the student population, have twice that percentage in AP. Whites, 68 percent of all students nationally, represent 65 percent of AP participants.

cAsians led all students in academic performance with a mean grade of 3.04 on AP exams last year, the report said. Whites scored a mean grade of 2.99, Latinos 2.6, and blacks 2.03 — almost a full point below the national average of 2.9.

“Efforts of states are paying off,” the report said. “Thousands more African-American, Latino, and Native American students demonstrated college-level mastery of AP courses in 2004 than were doing so four and eight years ago.”

But although Hispanic students are making big strides in both participation and performance, less than half of all black high school students in 41 states are taking AP courses, the report says.

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