More Students Take AP Tests, but Racial Gaps Persist

February 12, 2014

The number of high-school graduates taking Advanced Placement examinations has nearly doubled over the past decade, but racial gaps in access to and performance on the tests persist.

That’s according to the 10th annual "AP Report to the Nation," which was released by the College Board on Tuesday. Of the more than one million students in the high-school graduating class of 2013 who completed the exams, 607,505 earned at least one score of 3 or higher, which is considered passing on the test’s five-point scale. Of the 514,163 test takers in the class of 2003, 331,734 earned at least one passing score.

Over time, the share of test takers who pass has remained "healthy," said Trevor Packer, senior vice president for the Advanced Placement program.

"The role of Advanced Placement is not to give all students college credit," Mr. Packer said, "nor is it to give no students college credit. It’s to provide high schools with a tool for raising the rigor so that some students will qualify for specific placement."

But even students who do well on the exams might not be able to place out of required classes or gain college credit, depending on where they enroll. Most recently, the College of William & Mary announced it would no longer award general-education credit for the exams. (See a related article.)

According to Tuesday's report, African-American students are the most underrepresented in AP courses and among successful test takers. While African-American students made up 14.5 percent of the nation’s 2013 graduating class, only 9.2 percent enrolled in AP classes, and only 4.2 percent earned a score of 3 or higher.

"We’re really concerned about" the equity gap for African-American students, Mr. Packer said, "because this is an issue that has never been solved."