Published: December 8, 2006

Stat of the Week — Dec. 7, 2006

Changes in Participation and Scores in the Advanced Placement Arena

Advanced Placement classes and exams have long been a vehicle for students to receive college credit for work accomplished during the high school years. There has been some question, however, regarding the availability of such courses to all students. For example, a March 2006 study by the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles found that large high schools with high concentrations of minority students offered fewer AP courses than schools of comparable size with low minority populations. ("Advanced Placement," May 10, 2006.) In an apparent attempt to address such disparities, the U.S. Department of Education recently awarded 33 grants totaling $17 million to increase the participation of low-income students in AP classes and testing. In this week's Stat of the Week, the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center looks at the increase in the number of AP exams taken by students in the last five years and the corresponding changes in average scores by race and ethnicity.

Data from the College Board National AP Summary Reports for 2000 and 2005 show that the number of AP exams administered to public school students has increased substantially—almost doubling across each ethnicity.* However, there does not appear to have been a dramatic change in the participation gap between minority and majority groups. Furthermore the increase in the numbers of exams taken does not appear to have had a positive impact on exam scores.

A comparison of the overall mean scores from 2000 and 2005 shows slight declines for three out of four groups represented. The average score for white students dropped by 0.08 points, while the mean for African-American students fell by 0.15 points. The largest five-year change, however, occurred for Latino students, where the mean decreased by 0.37 points. Asian-American students' scores were on average almost the same in 2000 and 2005. These decreases in scores for Latinos and African-Americans further widen the existing achievement gap between those groups and white students on the AP tests.

* Population size differs by race, ethnicity, and time period; therefore it is necessary to examine percentages in order to draw conclusions about real changes in participation rates.

To find out more about assessment in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, access the Education Counts database.