- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Maryland led the nation in improving the percentage of public high school seniors passing at least one Advanced Placement test in the past five years, the College Board reported yesterday.

Last year, 21 percent of Maryland’s graduating seniors scored an exam grade of 3 or higher — the program benchmark for predicting college success — on one or more AP exams while in high school. This was a 6.9 percent increase from 2000, the largest in the country.

The report was conducted by the College Board, a New York-based nonprofit organization best known as owner of the SAT.

North Carolina had the second-highest increase, 5.9 percent. Virginia is tied for 18th with a 3.4 percent increase, while the District’s 2.1 percent rise tied for 40th.

Maryland schools superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick attributed the positive results to a “rigorous” statewide push to provide learning opportunities for all students.

“Given the chance, our children can and will achieve great things,” Mrs. Grasmick said. “We must continue to challenge and support all of our students.”

Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said the state and the College Board have had a joint liaison who extols the virtues of the AP program at schools where it does not have a strong presence.

“Obviously, we’re thrilled with the report,” Mr. Reinhard said. “The results show that the AP curriculum is beginning to be taught statewide, where it was once mostly in private and suburban schools.”

Mr. Reinhard said the state is also pleased with the increase in Hispanic students who took at least one AP test. He said there is “much more work to do” to enlist more black students, although blacks made up 14.1 percent of the number of test takers in Maryland, which was sixth in the country.

New York led the nation in overall percentage, with 22.8 percent of its high school seniors passing at least one test. Maryland was next, and Utah followed with 20.5 percent. Virginia was fourth. Louisiana was last with 2.5 percent.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said the number of students taking AP math and science exams should more than triple to 1.5 million by 2012 under President Bush’s AP Incentive program.

“We must encourage our kids to take more challenging courses, and the Advanced Placement program has been proven to make a difference in student performance,” Mrs. Spellings said.

Each exam is scored using a five-point scale, with 5 regarded as extremely well-qualified, 4 as well-qualified, 3 as qualified, 2 as possibly qualified and 1 as no recommendation.

The number of students taking and passing AP exams was up from 2004 to 2005, though average scores were about the same.

The District and 44 states slightly increased the percentage of students passing at least one AP test last year. Percentages of students passing at least one test dropped in five states — Florida, Nevada, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming — while Louisiana held steady.

Ayeola Boothe-Kinlaw, the College Board’s director of equity and access initiative, said the organization was pleased with the results, despite marginal increases from 2004.

“It’s a gradual process,” she said. “The nominal increases [from 2004] throughout the country are actually good because it indicates steady preparation, and that interest in the program doesn’t waver from year to year.”

More than 80,000 black students took an AP test during high school. The average score was 1.99, compared with the national average of 2.88.

The disparity is largely because blacks traditionally were unprepared for or do not expect to attend college, Miss Boothe-Kinlaw said. The scores for black students are rising, a trend she said she expects to continue.

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