More African-American students in Maryland's Class of 2012 successfully passed a rigorous Advanced Placement exam than ever before, as the state continued to lead the nation in the percentage of students deemed college- and career-ready, according to data released Wednesday by the national College Board.
The 11.4 percent of black students who earned a score of 3 or better on an exam still comprises a small fraction of the 29.6 percent of all Maryland seniors who passed a test. But it is among the highest percentages in the nation, reflecting the increased access and success for black students on the exams.
Maryland maintained its longstanding rank as No. 1 in the nation in the proportion of students passing the exams in 2012. The state significantly outpaced the nation, where 19.5 percent of students scored a 3 or higher, and also noted the largest percentage increase of students passing the tests in the past decade.
The data were released in the College Board's "Annual AP Report to the Nation." The report provides a state-by-state report on the number of students who take Advanced Placement courses, which are offered in dozens of subject areas, and pass the assessments. Students earn a score of 1 to 5, with 3 considered passing.
Some colleges accept passing grades as credit, and students who pass the tests are said to have higher college grade point averages, do better in intermediate level classes and have higher college completion rates.
Over the past decade, the number of Maryland students who take the exams has more than doubled, which state schools Superintendent Lillian M. Lowery praised as "parents and students really stepping out there, ready to take these risks.
"We believe that every child should have access to the most rigorous curriculum possible," Lowery said. "Not everyone is going to do well on the assessments, but at least they are being introduced to college and career-ready" work.
She attributed the increased pass rates to high-quality training for teachers and hard work by students.
The state was among a few in the country in which both the number of students taking the tests, particularly among minorities and other underserved populations, and pass rates increased. "The good news is, we have not suffered at all because we have opened access," Lowery said.
College Board officials said the gap in the number of underserved populations who have access to the rigor of Advanced Placement courses remains a national struggle, though in Maryland the variations are less prevalent.
Officials said that while one in four Advanced Placement students in the nation are underserved minorities, the proportion of those students who have the potential to excel in the classes still lags in some subjects. For example, two out of 10 Native American students with the potential to excel in AP math classes enroll in them, and three out of 10 African-American and Hispanic students do.
Maryland also had the highest percentage of students in the nation taking math and science assessments, state officials said.
Lowery said she would like to see the gap between minority students and their peers shrink significantly, particularly with the passage of the Maryland Dream Act, which will allow more minority students to attend college by extending a tuition break to some illegal immigrants who graduate from high school in Maryland.
"We would hope to ... continue to grow at all levels, and among all ethnicities," she said.
State officials noted that Hispanic students also saw progress on the exams last year. They accounted for 8.8 percent of Maryland's 2012 graduating class and 8.3 percent of the seniors who scored 3 or higher on the exam.
All 24 Maryland school systems have at least 20 percent of seniors taking the tests, according to state officials, who highlighted some districts — Anne Arundel, Calvert, Frederick, Howard and Montgomery counties — for having at least 30 percent of their graduating classes pass an exam.
By the numbers
Number of Maryland seniors who took AP exam in 2012: 26,640
Percentage of Maryland's seniors who passed AP exam in 2012: 29.6
Percentage of seniors who passed AP exam nationally: 19.5
Percentage of African-American seniors in Maryland who passed AP exam in 2012: 11.4
Percentage of Hispanic seniors in Maryland who passed AP exam: 8.3Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun