Education News in Brief

More Low-Income Pupils Taking AP

February 23, 2010 1 min read

Continuing a pattern from recent years, more students from low-income families are taking—and earning what is considered a passing score on—at least one Advanced Placement exam, an analysis of results for the public high school graduating class of 2009 shows.

At the same time, significant gaps persist in preparation and access across “traditionally underserved students,” the analysis released this month by the College Board suggests, especially for African-American students.

For instance, although black students represented 14.5 percent of the 2009 graduating class, they were just 8.2 percent of those who took an AP exam and 3.7 percent of those who passed at least one of the tests during their high school careers.

Participation on the Rise: Class of 2009

Total number of high school graduates

2001: 2,569,200
2009: 3,019,361

Total number of high school graduates who took an AP exam at some point in high school

2001: 433,449 (16.9%)
2009: 798,629 (26.5%)

Total number of high school graduates who scored a 3 or higher on an AP exam at some point in high school

2001: 278,305 (10.8%)
2009: 479,349 (15.9%)

NOTE: Data are for public schools only.

SOURCE: College Board

Data supplied by College Board officials also suggest that as test participation overall has increased dramatically over time, the percentage of AP exams with a passing score has declined. For instance, 56.5 percent of tests taken by the class of 2009 earned a score of 3 or higher, compared with 60.8 percent for the class of 2001.

Tests are graded on a scale of 1 to 5, the highest score. The College Board, the New York City-based nonprofit organization that sponsors the AP program, considers a score of 3 the minimum that is predictive of success in college.

The organization’s sixth annual “AP Report to the Nation” finds that students from low-income families represented 18.9 percent of AP test-takers in the class of 2009, up from 17 percent for the class of 2008 and 13.7 percent for the class of 2004. Such students made up 14.7 percent of those in the class of 2009 who earned a score of at least 3 on one or more AP tests, compared with 13.4 percent for the class of 2008.

Overall, the number of test-takers has doubled to nearly 800,000 when comparing the class of 2009 with the class of 2001, said Trevor Packer, the College Board vice president who oversees the AP program. He emphasized that the number of exams receiving a 3 or higher has also nearly doubled, from about 653,000 to 1.3 million.

At the same time, he noted, the number of exams getting a score of just 1 or 2 has gone up as well, from about 421,000 for the class of 2001 to approximately 1 million for the 2009 graduating class.

A version of this article appeared in the February 24, 2010 edition of Education Week as More Low-Income Pupils Taking AP