Md. students score high in taking AP courses

The Baltimore Sun

A relatively high number of Maryland high school students are taking Advanced Placement exams and scoring high enough to receive college credit on the highly regarded tests, according to 2007 results released yesterday.

Marylanders were second in the nation in the percentage of students scoring at the mastery level on the exam, which means they earned a score of 3 or higher. The number of Maryland students scoring at the mastery level rose from 16.4 percent in 2002 to 22.4 percent last year, according to the College Board, which administers the tests.

Meanwhile, at 35.3 percent, Maryland ranks third in the nation in the proportion of graduating seniors taking an AP exam in high school, after New York and Florida.

In addition, Maryland seniors ranked 11th in the nation for scoring at the mastery level on the 2007 exams, even though the Maryland is the 19th-most-populous state, and more students take the exams in larger states.

"This is a powerful message - particularly to parents - that public schools are for all students, and that we have very rigorous standards," said State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. "We have expectations."

Grasmick and other top state educators tout the AP program because it promotes professional development among teachers, it better prepares students for college by giving some a jump start financially, and it encourages school systems to spread equity and access to all students.

For example, this year AP teachers were required to submit their course syllabuses to the College Board for review. The new rule is an attempt to preserve the integrity and the high standards of the program, according to many educators.

Students who score at least a 3 on the exam are given credit by a majority of the nation's colleges and universities, which saves students money in the long run.

To encourage AP participation by African-Americans, Latinos and others who historically have not taken the tests in large numbers, the College Board also offers states money to offset the costs associated with the exam. Some Maryland schools also pay for enhancements to their AP programs with money from the so-called Thornton legislation, which grew out of a lawsuit charging that the state unlawfully underfunded Baltimore's schools.

Grasmick said a huge chunk of Maryland's success is attributed to an early recognition of the program's importance by high-ranking educators. Maryland schools embraced the AP program in the late 1990s.

Nearly a decade later, while many states are scrambling to offer basic AP courses, Maryland is working to close the gaps of minorities and others who take AP exams, and to offer a more diverse range of courses such as music theory and art history.

The AP program is a major part of the culture at the high-performing River Hill High School in Howard County.

The Clarksville school tops Howard County with a 47.2 percent ranking on the equity and excellence index, which calculates the number of students who took an AP course and scored at least a 3 on the AP exam. Maryland's average is 22.4 percent.

River Hill offers 22 AP courses. There are plans to expand course offerings to include psychology and music theory next fall.

"We've talked about the benefits long enough that it's part of the culture," said Rick Robb, River Hill's AP coordinator, who also teaches 12th grade AP English. Students think "the more successful they are on AP exams translates to being more competitive for bigger Ivy League schools. The parents understand the rigors of an AP course," he said.

Students at the school take an average of three AP classes, according to principal William Ryan.

"When you have 95 percent of your students going on to college, it is part of the expectation," Ryan said.

Robb said his colleagues enjoy the rigors of teaching AP courses.

"When high school teachers get in the industry the goal is not to become babysitters, but to teach the disciplines which we train and are passionate about," Robb said. With AP courses "we think we are teaching at the college level. It is genuine teaching and learning," he said.

AP courses were a natural progression for Carolyn Rosinsky, a 17-year-old senior at River Hill. She began taking AP government her sophomore year after taking gifted and talented classes.

"You end up with kids who think on a higher level; they are more globally aware," she said. "You end up covering so much more material with so much more depth. I've heard from other kids who are in college that it helps them prepare for that."

Rosinsky, who is scheduled to complete 11 AP courses and exams by the time she graduates, has noticed a concerted effort by teachers at her school to enroll students in AP courses.

"The school itself pushes students," she said. "Last year I took five courses. I know kids who take seven."

AP success

Maryland education officials embraced the AP program in the late 1990s. It has shown steady success in recent years.

In 2007, Maryland's average of students scoring high enough to receive college credit on the AP exam was 22.4 percent compared to the national average of 15.2. Last year, Maryland averaged 21.7 percent compared to the national average of 14.7 percent. In 2002, Marylanders averaged 16.4 percent to the national average of 11.7 percent.

A total of 20,314 Maryland seniors participated in the AP program in 2007, which is an increase from 12,078 in 2002.

Maryland has exceeded the national average for students scoring high enough to receive college credit on the AP exam the past five years.

Seven percent of the state's Latinos scored high enough to earn college credit on at least one AP test.

The percentage of Maryland's African-American students who reached mastery level on an AP test rose from 6.4 in 2002 to 8.3 last year.

Source: The College Board's 4th Annual AP Report to the Nation

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