Public school students in the U.S. are taking twice as many Advanced Placement classes as students did a decade ago. A College Board report found that the class of 2013 took 3.2 million AP exams.
Advanced Placement classes started in the 1950's as a way for students to earn college credit while still in high school. Currently AP classes are offered in 34 different subjects. They are graded in an identical way, so student's grades from one school can be matched up against those from another. Advocates say the classes help students stand out during the college admission process, and help them make an easier transition to college.
Expansion of the program comes from district, state, and federal efforts to make the classes available to low income and minority students. According to the report the number of low-income graduates who have taken an AP exam has quadrupled in the last decade.
The College Board points out there's room for more expansion: About 40 percent of public U.S. high schools don't offer any AP classes. And nearly 300,000 students who were identified by standardized tests as having potential to succeed in AP graduated without taking the classes.
The board is reaching out to students who have been identified as ready for AP classes, and is working with Google to get more minority and female students into AP science and math classes.
Question have arisen as to whether or not AP classes have become too available and whether or not schools are doing enough to assist the students taking them. As Education News reported before many are starting to criticize the practice of taking numerous Advanced Placement exams, saying that it causes students unnecessary stress and puts too much pressure on high school students.
Kimberley Heffling with the Associated Press shares that the College Board report found that 57% of AP exams had scores of three or higher, compared to 61% a decade earlier. However, considering the number of students who took the exams you could look at it another way. In 2003, 12% of graduates scored a three or higher, compared to 20% of graduates in 2013.
Kristin Klopfenstein, executive director of the Education Innovation Institute at the University of Northern Colorado, says that while increasing the availability of AP classes is good, students need access to the exams by means of a quality education to truly succeed.
"Access is much more than about offering the courses, it's about offering wrap-around support, so that kids who are coming in farther behind have a chance to take AP and actually be successful," Klopfenstein said.
At one high school in Washington, the number of students taking AP exams doubled over the last decade. Principal Peter Cahall said that when he arrived at the school he noticed most of the students, at the largely diverse school, taking AP classes were white. He began making an effort to bring more students into the AP level classes by recruiting those who scored high on standardized tests.
Now, no students wanting to take an AP class are turned away. "Sometimes you have to invite kids and say, you can do this," Cahall said. The percentage of those passing the exam with a three or higher has remained consistent at 50%. Cahall says the school is working to improve pass rates.