- Associated Press - Friday, January 8, 2016

CHICAGO (AP) - Data released by the state show participation in Advanced Placement classes has surged in Illinois in the past five years, while passing rates on AP exams have slipped.

The AP results for public high schools were obtained through public records law and analyzed by the Chicago Tribune (https://trib.in/1R9wswr). About 95,000 students took some 176,000 AP exams in May, with nearly 40 percent of exams scoring below a 3. A 3 or above is considered passing on the exams’ 5-point scale.

The number of AP test takers has risen by 36 percent since 2011, and total exams taken are up more than 40 percent. The state’s passing rate for public schools was 62.8 percent for 2015, the lowest in the last five years when rates were 64 percent to roughly 66 percent.

Students can earn college credit, depending on exam scores. A new Illinois law taking effect next school year requires public universities and community colleges to give college credit for getting at least a 3 on AP exams, though some universities prefer awarding credit for scores of 4 or 5.

Many schools that have boosted the number of students taking AP exams saw passing rates fall, including Cicero’s J.S. Morton High School District. The district’s mostly low-income students have been pushed to take AP classes and exams.

The number of students there taking AP exams doubled in five years, and the district saw the total of exams taken across AP subjects nearly triple. At Morton West, 18.7 percent of AP exams taken in May got passing scores, down from 33.1 percent in 2011. At Morton East, passing rates fell to 23.5 percent in 2015 from 30.6 percent in 2011.

Superintendent Michael Kuzniewski encourages all students to take AP courses.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you we are a shining example of student achievement,” Kuzniewski said, “but we are showing some monster growth in exposing kids to a higher level curriculum.”

The College Board administers the AP program in high schools in the United States and elsewhere. It has made an effort to give greater access to the program to students of all backgrounds.

Trevor Packer, head of the AP program at the College Board, said students who score below 3 on exams can still benefit by having taken a rigorous class and gaining familiarity with a college-level syllabus.

“We are fundamentally opposed to the gatekeeping that was happening 20 years ago and it continues,” said Packer, referring to barriers such as test scores and grades that keep students out of AP classes.

Not all school districts saw scores drop as participation increased. Chicago Public Schools has boosted the number of test takers and exams in the past five years, and the passing rate across its schools was about 38 percent in 2015, the highest since 2011.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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