More students taking AP exams

by Grace

More high school students are taking AP exams, but the passing rate is lower.

  • 33.2 percent of public high school graduates in the class of 2013 took an AP Exam, compared to 18.9 percent of graduates in the class of 2003.
  • 20.1 percent of public high school graduates in the class of 2013 earned a 3 or higher on an AP Exam, compared to 12.2 percent of graduates in the class of 2003.

The goal of the AP program is to promote both equity and excellence in education.  This means increasing access to AP course work while also increasing the percentage of students earning scores of 3 or higher.

As would be expected, as more AP exams are taken passing rate has dropped.

2003:  61%  of AP exams had scores of 3 or higher
2013:  43%  of AP exams had scores of 3 or higher

These figures exclude those students who take AP courses but do not sit for the exam.  Not all schools follow the policy at our local high school, which requires students who take an AP course to also take the AP exam.

A campaign to help increase AP enrollment among academically prepared minority students

“All In” Campaign: Despite significant progress, African American, Hispanic/Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native students who show AP potential through the PSAT/NMSQT still typically enrolled in AP classes at lower rates than white and Asian students.

In order to help academically prepared but underserved students access the AP course work for which they are ready, the College Board is currently developing an “All In” campaign, a coordinated effort among College Board members to ensure that 100 percent of underserved students who have demonstrated the potential to succeed in AP take at least one AP course.

Related:  A glossary of high school standardized tests (Cost of College)

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8 Comments to “More students taking AP exams”

  1. Are they improving access to the classes? It used to be a big problem that many high schools simply didn’t offer AP. Back in my day, I went to the only high school in my state with AP calculus (this was a long time ago). Some kids from neighboring schools were bused over to take it, but the bulk of kids, especially those in the poorest parts of my very poor state, were simply shut out. It seemed grossly unfair to me.


  2. They are improving access.

    “Low-income graduates accounted for 27.5 percent of those who took at least one AP Exam in the class of 2013, compared to 11.4 percent in the class of 2003.”

    A part of the access issue is the question whether underserved groups are academically prepared to handle AP courses.


  3. AP Computer Science is not very available—access is poor even in wealthy areas and non-existent in poorer ones. There has been a lot of media hype about this recently, based on a report by Barbara Ericson

    See also my critique of the statistics at


  4. I agree that underprepared students can pose a problem. But if a school doesn’t offer AP at all, that is a basic access problem that has nothing to do with the problem of underprepared students. It was a big issue in my day, but I don’t know if it still is. I think that all students with adequate background should have access to AP courses.


  5. gasstation — we need someone like you clearing up misconceptions after many stories on many topics out there!


  6. Access is still an issue, but it has improved over the last ten years and will probably continue to improve. More schools are offering online AP classes as a way to improve access, which may work well in some situations.


  7. While I agree that “all students with adequate background should have access to AP courses”, it is certainly not the case now. Some AP courses are much more commonly offered than others (there a many, many more AP calculus classes than AP CS classes), and rich schools are much more likely to offer AP courses than poor schools.

    Where I live, only one public school within 30 miles offer AP CS (and it is a lottery-entry charter school, with about a 1-in-5 chance of getting in), no school (public or private) in that area offers AP Physics C, and AP Physics B and AP Chem are offered in alternate years in the schools that do both (making it difficult for more than a handful of students to do both).

    There are two related problems: access to AP courses (still rather limited for most AP subjects) and adequate preparation for AP courses and college. The College Board has been pushing the first (to maximize their AP test revenue) and pretty much ignoring the second.


  8. “The College Board has been pushing the first (to maximize their AP test revenue) and pretty much ignoring the second.”

    It does seem that way.

    David Coleman, College Board president and a major “architect” of Common Core Standards, does seem to be trying to improve adequate preparation. But I am not convinced his efforts will make a difference.


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