As usual, the College Board’s latest annual report on
enrollment and achievement in the prestigious Advanced Placement program paints
an overall rosy picture. (The College Board, remember, has a major vested
interest in both the reputation and expansion of the AP program and is famously
resistant to external analyses of its data.) Since 2001, the national passing
rate (a score of three or higher) has bumped almost 8 percentage points—and twenty-two
states boast even larger gains. In fact, more graduates are passing AP tests
today than took them a decade ago. (Note
that this report doesn’t hit on whether the quality of the
has remained steadfast.) Yet some problems persist—especially
surrounding access to the AP for those in rural and urban areas, as well as for
minorities writ large. Four out of five African American students who had at
least a 70 percent chance of passing an AP exam (based on PSAT scores,
according to a College Board algorithm, aptly dubbed “AP Potential”) either
didn’t enroll in the relevant AP course or attended a school where the course
was not offered. To counter this predicament, the Board offers tips for
schools, districts, states, and universities, most of which are vapid and
obvious (“provide funding incentives to subsidize fees for AP STEM exams” or
“offer emotional and academic support to students through targeted peer
mentoring”). Digital learning—and the potentials it brings to efficiently and
effectively open AP access to those in traditionally hard-to-reach schools—is
overlooked as an option. As are the growing pains inevitable with such a
rapidly expanding program. According to our
own survey of AP teachers
, overall program quality remains strong—but storm
clouds are amassing on the horizon: Over half of AP teachers believe that
students overestimate their abilities and are in over their heads. Smart
expansion and inclusion must surely be fought for. But let’s make sure this
doesn’t come at the expense of those most ready for challenging coursework.

The College Board, AP Report to the Nation (Washington, D.C.:
The College Board, February 2012.)

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