AP Test Takers and Scores Increase, but Minority Participation Still Lags

February 08, 2012

The numbers of public high-school graduates who have taken Advanced Placement examinations and scored well on them continue to rise, according to a report released on Wednesday by the College Board. But many graduates—especially minority students—with AP potential are not taking the courses, the report says.

Over the last 10 years, more and more students have taken AP tests, says the "8th Annual AP Report to the Nation." In 2001, 431,573 graduates took at least one test; in 2006, 645,277 did; and in 2011, 903,630 graduates took one or more tests.

Scores have also ascended through the years. The report found a 7.3 percentage-point increase since 2001 in the share of high-school graduates earning a 3 or higher on the tests, which are scored on a five-point scale. Last year the number of students scoring above a 3 ticked up about 30,000 over the previous year, to 18.1 percent of all test takers. Exam scores of 3 or higher generally serve as a predictor of college success, according to the College Board.

"Over all, this is very good news," said Trevor Packer, executive director of the Advanced Placement program for the College Board. "Almost all the states have steadily increased the percentage of their high-school population that is achieving the benefits of taking the AP exam."

African-American students remain the most underrepresented group in AP classrooms, accounting for 14.7 percent of the 2011 graduating class but only 9 percent of test takers. The number of African-American students with AP potential, based on their PSAT scores, is higher than those who actually take an AP course, the College Board says. Almost 80 percent of African-American students it considers prepared did not take an AP course last year.

Availability of AP courses at students' high schools, self-doubt about academic potential, and other issues, such as feeling like an outcast among friends, are some reasons African-American students may not enroll, Mr. Packer said.

Seventy percent of prepared Hispanic students, 62 percent of white students, and 42 percent of Asian students are also not taking recommended AP courses, the report says.