News Column

Florida in Top 5 for Student Success in AP Classes

Feb. 21, 2013

Leslie Postal, Orlando Sentinel

Florida high-school students took Advanced Placement courses and passed the tough AP exams last year in greater numbers than ever before, according to a new national report released this morning.

Florida was ranked fourth in the nation -- up two places from last year -- based on the percentage of its 2012 graduates who had passed at least one AP exam while in high school, according to the College Board's ninth annual "AP Report to the Nation."

Among last spring's graduating class, 27.3 percent of students left with a successful AP score -- a 3 or better on the five-level exams -- compared with just less than 24 percent for the class of 2011. Nationally, AP participation and success has increased, too, with the share of graduates earning at least one good score at 19.5 percent across the country.

Maryland, New York and Massachusetts were the top three states for AP success. In Florida, the Lake and Orange county school districts won AP "honor roll" awards for increasing the number of students taking AP classes and doing well on the tests.

Since 2000, Florida has pushed schools to offer more AP classes, meant to mimic introductory college courses, as a way to challenge students and better prepare them for postsecondary academics. Classes once restricted only to a high school's top students were opened to many more teenagers, who can earn college credit with AP scores of 3 or higher.

Florida led the nation last year in the percentage of students taking an AP exam and has earned praise as student success has jumped significantly. More Florida graduates passed an AP exam in 2012 than sat for the tests in 2002. Hispanic students, considered "underserved" by AP nationwide, have shined in Florida, succeeding on AP exams in high numbers.

"There's something really powerful happening with Florida's AP initiative," said Trevor Packer, senior vice president of the College Board's AP program.

That's an assessment shared by many local school administrators, even as success on AP varies widely across Central Florida. Last year's scores ranged from a high of 70 percent earning 3's or higher at Oviedo High School in Seminole County to a low of fewer than 5 percent doing well at Evans and Jones high schools in Orange County.

Statewide, 56 percent of the exam scores from last year's class were 1's or 2's, showing students didn't master all the concepts and skills taught in the course.

Florida's efforts to expand access to AP classes means it is "taking risks on large number of students," some of whom struggle on the AP exams, Packer said.

But an "open access" AP policy means many more students now get an important taste of college while still in high school, said Harold Border, principal of Freedom High School in Orange County.

"I think it's absolutely beneficial for kids," Border said.

At Freedom, where 42 percent of scores were 3 or better last year, participation in AP classes has skyrocketed in the past several years while AP scores have also increased, he said.

There are nearly 40 AP courses in a range of subjects, from calculus to English literature to U.S. history. The most popular in Florida last year was English language and composition. Though the state wants more students to pursue studies in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math), relatively few Florida students took AP courses in those disciplines compared with English, history and social-science courses.

In coming years, Florida should focus on beefing up middle-school academics to prepare more students for AP, Packer said. It should also rethink enrolling so many ninth-graders into AP classes, a practice the College Board "strongly discourages" because of their high failure rate.

Many Florida ninth-graders, for example, take AP human geography, in which nearly 49 percent of students scored the lowest possible mark, recent data show.

But local principals say many of their ninth-graders shine in that and other courses.

"It's something they can do if instructed well," said Lance Abney, an assistant principal at Lake Howell High School in Seminole, where 53.5 percent of the scores were 3 or higher last year.

Lake Howell gave about 300 AP exams six years ago compared with more than 1,500 last year.

"When you challenge them ... they usually work up to it," Principal Frank Casillo added.

Education Commissioner Tony Bennett called the latest report "very encouraging news," saying it "shows that years of hard work on the part of Florida's teachers are producing results."

More than 39,000, or 27.3 percent, of Florida high-school graduates left school in 2012 with at least one successful AP score. In 2002, about 17,250, or 14.4 percent, did.



Source: (c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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