Georgia students gain on Advanced Placement scores

More Georgia students took and scored well on Advanced Placement exams this year, and state officials say that shows public school students are graduating from high school better prepared for college.

AP courses are upper-level classes that allow students to earn college credit while still in high school. Research shows students who score well on AP exams perform better in college and are more likely to graduate on time, according to The College Board, the company that oversees the program.

This year, the number of Georgia students who scored high enough on the exams to potentially earn college credit increased by 13.5 percent. The number of students taking the exams increased by 8 percent. Participation rates and scores for black and Hispanic students went up as well.

“Typically as test [participation] goes up, scores go down, but you see the opposite in Georgia,” said Trevor Packer, senior vice president for Advanced Placement and college readiness at The College Board. “It’s really incredible when compared to the national increase at the same time.”

Packer says the state has made an effort to strengthen its AP program, and it’s paying off.

Georgia gives all sophomores the PSAT exam and encourages schools to use the results to identify good candidates for AP courses. Since 2006, the state has spent at least $1.3 million to train thousands of AP teachers. And the state pays for one AP exam for low-income students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

Students who score at least a 3 on a 1-5 scale can earn college credits, with the number of credits varying by institution. Emory University, for example, offers four hours of credit for scores of 4 or 5 on AP exams.

“There are numerous reasons it is important to encourage students to go the AP route,” said State School Superintendent John Barge. “It is a huge factor in completing college, and that’s a big initiative for our governor and our state right now.”

Last year, more than 70,000 public college students took remedial classes. This year, the University System of Georgia passed a new rule barring students who need too much remedial help in English and math. Students who can’t pass remedial classes after multiple tries also may be kicked out.

D’Andrea Dixon, senior at Mount Zion High School in Clayton County, said she chose to take AP courses because she knew she wanted to go to college and she wanted to be ready.

“It’s not for everyone,” she said. “In my AP class, they don’t tell you to study for the test. They tell you Monday there’s a test on Friday, and if you don’t study you get a bad grade. You have to take initiative to learn.”

Georgia has also had success in improving the AP results for minority students. The state’s black students are second in the nation for scoring 3 or better on exams. The number of Hispanic test-takers scoring 3 or better increased by 19.6 percent compared to 14 percent nationally.

An achievement gap still exists between white and minority students, but the state is headed in the right direction, said Becky Chambers, who oversees Georgia’s AP program. Next, the goal is to increase Georgia’s performance in AP biology and other sciences, which are low across the country, she said.

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