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State ranked 3rd in number of low-income students taking AP exams

February 8, 2012 |  2:58 pm

Low-income students in California scored well on Advanced Placement exams taken for college credit, with almost twice as many students taking and succeeding on the rigorous tests, according to a report released Wednesday.  Meanwhile, Latinos and blacks made small gains despite being underrepresented in high school AP classrooms.

Last year, 52,700 low-income high school graduates took at least one AP exam, up from 29,006 students in 2006. With a nearly 40% gain, California ranked third in the nation in low-income exam takers. New Mexico topped the list.

About 31,082 of the low-income test takers earned a score of 3 or higher on at least one AP exam, up from 18,933 during in 2006.

"The climate in California is that there is a focus on making these opportunities available to all students," said Trevor Packer, vice president of the AP Program for the College Board.

Parker cited several factors that contributed to the boost; among them a federal grant that allows students who receive free and reduced-price meals to take the tests for free.  Each exam costs $87.  Also, he said more counselors stress to students and parents the cost-savings associated with taking the AP exam instead of paying a heftier price tag for the same course at a college.

Advanced Placement courses offer college-level material to high school students.  Exams are scored on a scale of 1 to 5.  Colleges and universities typically give students credit for scores of 3 or better.

Last year, 35.4% of California high school seniors took at least one AP exam, up from 28.6% in 2006.  About 23.4% of graduates scored 3 or higher on at least one AP exam, compared with 19.2% in 2006.

Though an achievement gap among Latinos and blacks still exists, the two groups made slight gains.  Last year, 4,892 black students took at least one exam, up from 3,696 in 2006.  Meanwhile, Latinos had 48,462 AP test takers in 2011, an increase from 31,345 in 2006.  And both groups saw a jump in students earning scores of 3 or higher.

California Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said he was “encouraged” that more minorities and low-income students were enrolling in AP courses, but acknowledged that the state had more work to do to help these students achieve greater success.

“We still have a way to go to close the achievement gap among California’s students,” he said.  “But these results show that we’re moving in the right direction.”

The annual AP Report to the Nation recognized Val Verde Unified School District in Perris with one of three AP Districts of the Year Awards.  Val Verde was honored for leading the nation, among medium-sized school districts, for expanding access to AP classrooms while increasing the number of test takers scoring 3 or higher.


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