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Maryland ranks 5th in U.S. for percentage of students earning passing scores on Advanced Placement exams

Nearly a third of Maryland’s 2019 graduates had taken and passed an Advanced Placement exam while in high school, the fifth-highest rate in the nation.

The results released Thursday morning by the College Board in an annual report on Advanced Placement show that Maryland’s rapid expansion of the rigorous college-level classes has slowed and remained relatively stable over the past five years. Last year, 31.5 percent of Maryland graduates had passed at least one exam during their time in school, compared to a nationwide average of 23.9 percent.

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Maryland led the nation for a decade in the percentage of students taking and passing at least one class by the time they graduated, but as AP classes have grown in other states Maryland’s rank has fallen. In Massachusetts, 33.8 percent of graduates had passed at least one AP exam, followed by Connecticut at 32.5 percent and Florida at 32.3 percent. The lowest percentage in the nation was in Mississippi, where only 7.4 percent of students had passed an exam.

The Advanced Placement classes are intended to be equivalent to freshman-level college classes taught to high school students. Those who score a 3 or higher on the exam’s 1-to-5 scoring system can earn college credit at some higher education institutions.

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The College Board has received criticism over the past decade for encouraging unprepared students to take the classes, and for offering a broad but not deep curriculum. In Maryland, the expansion sometimes came at the expense of students who took classes that were not on a college level and did not prepare students for the exams.

Responding to criticism, the College Board has introduced new programs that require more in-depth study and answers to multiple-choice questions. Several years ago, it introduced an Advanced Placement capstone program that includes a significant research project in the second year of the program.

The College Board said 10,883 students in the nation earned an AP Capstone award, a 41 percent increase from the year before.

The College Board has been pushing Advanced Placement as a way to provide more access to challenging courses to students in schools with large enrollments of African American and Hispanic students, and the report showed an 88 percent increase, over a decade, in the number of African American students passing the exams.

The College Board could not provide details of how many minority and low-income students in Maryland have graduated having passed an exam. State education officials said they did not have the data.

Last May, 66,000 high school students took one or more AP exams. The mean score for black students and Hispanic students was below 3, which is considered passing.

College Board officials said the next challenge for the nonprofit will be to expand its use into small, rural high schools where there may not be a large number of students taking advanced classes. “Our biggest crisis is in rural America,” said College Board President David Coleman. “It is one of the biggest challenges for the College Board in the future.”

Students can take the classes online, but he said those classes are not a substitute for a good teacher.

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