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February 05, 2010 7:15 PM AP Scores Decline

By Daniel Luzer

Advanced Placement classes, high school courses designed as a substitute for entry-level college classes, are a prime mover in college admissions. In recent years the number of AP classes high school students take, and the scores they earn on the test that comes at the end, has been a major factor in determining what colleges one can attend.

At the same time advocates of the test have pushed more and more students to take them. Students last year took 2.9 million AP exams, the most ever. But apparently scores are falling. Students must earn a 3 or better on the test in order to qualify for college credit. From USA Today comes news that:

The number of students taking Advanced Placement tests hit a record high last year, but the portion who fail the exams — particularly in the South — is rising as well.
…More than two in five students (41.5%) earned a failing score of 1 or 2, up from 36.5% in 1999. In the South, a Census-defined region that spans from Texas to Delaware, nearly half of all tests — 48.4% — earned a 1 or 2, a failure rate up 7 percentage points from a decade prior and a statistically significant difference from the rest of the country.

The increase in the failure rate suggests that high schools may be pushing students to take AP classes (and exams) for which they are unprepared. It also suggests that merely offering a course called AP is not enough. Perhaps AP courses aren’t really taught very well.

The USA Today analysis indicates that Arkansas has the country’s highest failure rate (70.3%), though Arkansas scores are actually rising.

Scores on standardized tests usually fall the more people take them. The average score on the SAT decreased over time too, compelling the College Board to adjust scoring periodically.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer