College Board Report Shows Many Capable Students Do Not Take AP Exams

February 14, 2012

Teacher helping high school studentsA new report from the College Board has found that more students than ever are taking Advanced Placement exams. However, the report also found that many students who had the potential to succeed in AP courses did not to take the tests, either by choice or because they attended a school that did not offer the subjects.

The College Board's eighth annual "AP Report to the Nation" found that over the last decade, the number of students taking AP tests has risen. In 2001, for example, 431,573 high school graduates took at least one AP exam, while in 2011, 903,639 graduates did. Moreover, scores have increased as well: Last year, the number of students who scored above 3 on an exam rose about 30,000 over the previous year, for a total of 18.1 percent of all test takers. Students who receive at least a 3 on AP courses often receive college credit.

"Overall, this is very good news," said Trevor Packer, director of the Advanced Placement program for the College Board, who was quoted by The Chronicle of Higher Education. "Almost all the states have steadily increased the percentage of their high-school population that is achieving the benefits of taking the AP exam."

However, the report also found that out of the 771,000 students in the class of 2011 who scored well enough on their PSATs to be considered ready for AP courses, about 62 percent -- or nearly 478,000 -- chose not to take AP exams that they were recommended to take.

"These data confirm the need to continue expansion of AP opportunities for prepared and motivated students, because hundreds of thousands of U.S. students have indeed been academically ready for the challenge of an AP course but lacked the opportunity, encouragement, or motivation to participate," said Packer, in a statement quoted by Education Week.

The numbers were particularly pronounced among minority students. Among African-American students, for example, 80 percent of those the College Board considered to be capable of AP courses opted not to take Advanced Placement courses last year. In addition, the report found that 70 percent of Hispanic students and 73 percent of American Indian/Alaska Natives did not take recommended AP courses. Among white students, by contrast, 62 percent did not take an AP course.

The report also found that African-American students are the most underrepresented group taking AP classes: They comprised 14.7 percent of the class of 2011 but are only 9 percent of AP exam takers.

Robert Schaeffer, public education director for the advocacy group FairTest, told Inside Higher Ed that the numbers indicate that the College Board should be subsidizing AP programs in low-income schools. He noted that the exams are increasing the advantages of wealthy students and making it harder for poorer students to succeed.

In a conference call with reporters, Packer acknowledged that the College Board is troubled by the small number of minority groups in AP classrooms. He added that at schools where teachers are not equipped to teach AP courses and where students may be unprepared to take them, funds may be better spent on teacher training or pre-AP classes.

Compiled by Yaffa Klugerman


"AP Enrollment Grows Along With Questions of Privilege,", February 9, 2012, Mitch Smith

"AP Test Takers and Scores Increase, but Minority Participation Still Lags,", February 8, 2012, Joanna Chau

"Eligible Students Missing Out on AP,", February 8, 2012, Caralee J. Adams

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