Georgia teens outpace national averages on Advanced Placement test participation and improvement

More Georgia teens are taking Advanced Placement tests to earn early college credits, state officials announced Thursday, and their scores are actually outpacing their peers nationally.

The news provides a bright counterpoint to the generally dismal scores the state's students have turned in lately on other standardized tests.

Gov. Sonny Perdue and State School Superintendent Brad Bryant said Thursday that since the 2004-05 school year, Georgia has seen a 97 percent increase in students qualifying for college credit on AP tests. The increase topped the national average of 52 percent.

The six-year trend also shows Georgia boasted a 106 percent increase in AP public school test-takers, compared with a 56 percent increase nationwide, according to data released by the College Board.

The number of test-takers increased by 13.4 percent, more than the national average of 9.5 percent. About 11.4 percent of students scored a 3, 4 or 5 on exams, higher than the 8.3 percent national average.

Across the state in 2010, the performance of minority students in Georgia also outpaced national averages in participation and in improved test scores.

African-Americans saw a 15.2 percent increase in AP exam scores of 3 or higher compared with 12.5 nationally. Hispanic test-takers had a 33.3 percent increase compared with 13.6 for the nation.

“More and more Georgia students are meeting the challenge by taking and passing tough AP classes and exams,” Perdue said. “These tests often lead to earning college credits, which enable our students to enter college well prepared for advanced coursework.”

The AP results look especially good compared with the SAT, where Georgia slipped to 48th in the nation  in 2010. The class of 2010's average score on the SAT was 1453 for public, private and home school students, down seven points from 2009.

Students who take AP exams can start their freshman year of college with a leg up if they score a 3-5 on the tests. Colleges and universities may award credits for AP exams completed with a score of 3 or higher.

Some Georgia high schools are outperforming the state and nation on AP exams. At Northview High in Fulton County, 87 percent of students score a 3 or higher on AP exams. The school offers 28 AP courses, including AP physics, AP French,  AP American literature and AP Chinese, a class that sees a 100 percent passing rate on AP exams, with 98 percent of students earning a 5, the highest score on the tests, said Northview Principal Pamela Spalla.

Gwinnett County Schools also is seeing an increase in students taking AP tests and performing better on them, officials said.

In 2008, Berkmar High School of Lilburn received a national recognition -- and a $25,000 check -- for its success in steering its racially and economically diverse student population toward college. The high school was one of three nationwide to be recognized with the College Board 2008 Inspiration Award. Berkmar has among the state's highest percentages of African-Americans and Hispanics passing AP exams.

Tiffany Stout, 17, a senior at Mountain View High in Lawrenceville, decided to take her first AP course this year so she could be more competitive for college. She is treading through AP statistics.

“I was really good at trig last year and wanted a challenge,” she said. “They don’t baby you. They treat you more like college students than high school students. Colleges definitely look at it, if you don’t have any AP courses they don’t even consider you.”

Lisa Squires said she encouraged her daughter Katie, a  junior at Wheeler High in Marietta, to take the grueling AP classes.

Now Katie is taking a double dose of AP classes that splits literature and world history, alternating between the subjects each day for 90-minute classes that cram a school year’s worth of learning into a semester.

“She’s got a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” Squires said, noting the head start the classes will give Katie, even if she doesn’t pass the tests that offer college credit.

“Today the colleges want you to challenge yourself as much as you can, but still perform at an acceptable level. She is one that will constantly challenge herself.”

Bryant said the success on the AP shows students are leaving high school equipped for the future. “The increase in the number of students taking AP courses and scoring a 3, 4, or 5 demonstrates that more of our students are graduating from high school prepared for whatever they chose to do, whether that's college or a career.”

Staff writer Marcus Garner contributed to this article.