Expanding opportunities to take AP courses

Expanding opportunities to take AP courses

(Colo.) After establishing itself as the first state in the nation to enact a comprehensive policy aimed at encouraging participation in advanced placement courses, Arkansas reported nearly half of all its high school students had taken at least one of the college level classes in 2013.

According to a new report from the Education Commission of the States, the 46 percent participation rate in Arkansas was the fourth highest nationally and the single largest state gain in numbers that year, the latest for which data is available.

“Astoundingly, in conjunction with the decades’ increases in number of AP test-takers, Arkansas also saw the sixth largest percentage growth in students scoring a three or higher (out of five) of states nationally,” the commission reported.

Analysts also noted that the state’s AP participation quadrupled from 2001 to 2011 with 32 percent earning a three or higher in 2014.

Introduced into the public school system in the mid-1950s by the College Board, AP class work has become the standard for high-achieving high school students wanting to test their college-readiness skills. But access to AP classes is uneven nationally and there remains striking under-representation in the program of females, African-Americans and Hispanics.

As a result, some states have established outreach efforts aimed at encouraging broader participation – Arkansas being one of the best examples, the state commission said.

Research suggests a strong link between participation in AP classes and positive postsecondary outcomes – perhaps not surprisingly given the nature of the students most likely to enroll. But the impact on minority students has been found to be significant enough, the commission argued, that more should be done to broaden access and availability.

A 2013 study of the outcomes of the AdvanceKentucky program, an effort to boost enrollment in AP classes of traditionally underserved students, found that African American and Hispanic students who participated were substantially more likely than their peers in a comparison cohort to: graduate high school; attend a postsecondary institution in the fall after high school graduation; post higher postsecondary grade-point averages; and return for their freshman spring semester. AdvanceKentucky students were also significantly less likely to place into developmental coursework upon postsecondary matriculation, the report said.

The authors of the commission report closed with a proposed best practice policy that states should consider:


  • All public high schools required to offer at least one AP course.
  • Students advised into AP courses based on objective metrics (for example, performance on assessments aligned to college- and career-readiness standards).
  • High-quality online courses and bandwidth support to facilitate course availability, particularly in rural and small schools.
  • Mechanism to identify and rectify underrepresentation of historically underserved students.
  • Exam fee subsidies, at a minimum for low-income students.


  • State support for pre-AP courses and training.
  • Financial incentives to support course offerings and success.
  • State support for teacher training and professional development.


  • Accountability incentives for AP participation and success.
  •  Students required to take AP exam to earn course credit.


  • Uniform postsecondary criteria for awarding credit for AP exam scores.

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