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January 23, 2018

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More Nevada high school students taking college-level courses

But fewer are passing the AP tests to earn the college credits


Advanced Placement calculus students crowd into a class at Clark High School in this January 2010 file photo.

More Nevada high school students are taking Advanced Placement exams, but their passing rate falls below the national average, according to a recent report from the College Board.

A decade ago, about 2,700 students — about 16 percent of the graduating class — took at least one AP exam during high school. Last year, that number increased to nearly 7,300 students, with nearly a third of graduates in the class of 2013 taking an AP exam.

This growth in AP test-takers has been fueled by a national push to increase the rigor of high school classes, particularly for low-income students. Some research shows that students who take AP classes in high school earn better grades in college and are more likely to graduate college within five years.

That’s true even if students don’t pass the AP exam. Some research shows that just being introduced to college-level rigor during high school helps students succeed in college.

States with the Highest and Lowest Overall AP Passing Rates

(Share of students who passed an AP exam, as a percentage of all students in the graduating class)

1. Maryland (29.6 percent)

2. Connecticut (28.8 percent)

3. Virginia (28.3 percent)

4. Massachusetts (27.9 percent)

5. Florida (27.3 percent)

6. California (26.9 percent)

7. New York (25.4 percent)

8. Utah (25.4 percent)

9. Colorado (24.4 percent)

10. New Jersey (23.6 percent)


24. Nevada (16.9 percent)


41. Alabama (10.8 percent)

42. Kansas (10.5 percent)

43. Tennessee (10.1 percent)

44. Wyoming (10 percent)

45. Nebraska (9.9 percent)

46. Missouri (9.5 percent)

47. West Virginia (9.4 percent)

48. North Dakota (9.1 percent)

49. Louisiana (5.3 percent)

50. Mississippi (4.4 percent)

Nevada’s AP Passing Rate

In 2003, 2,678 students in the graduating class took an AP exam. Of those, 63 percent -- 1,688 students -- had a passing score.

In 2013, 7,299 students in the graduating class took an AP exam. Of those, 53 percent -- 3,901 students -- had a passing score

Although more students are taking the classes, their passing rates have fallen, according to the College Board’s 10th annual report on its AP program.

In 2003, 63 percent of high school graduates who took the AP exam passed. In 2013, that number fell to 53 percent.

Nevada is not alone. AP pass rates are falling across the country because more students are being motivated to take the AP courses and exams. Previously, only the most high-achieving students were encouraged — or even allowed — to participate.

Since the 1950s, the College Board, a nonprofit testing company, has operated the AP program, which gives ambitious high school students the opportunity to take college-level courses in 34 subjects from U.S. history to calculus.

“Advanced Placement courses help prepare Nevada students for a smooth transition to higher education,” Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Dale Erquiaga said in a statement.

To nudge more low-income students to take the AP exam, the federal government has given states millions of dollars in subsidies to offset testing costs. Last year, Nevada received $336,000, which helped lower the student fee from $81 per test to $10.

As a result, AP participation rates among low-income students has skyrocketed, from 207 test-takers in 2003 to more than 2,400 in 2013. However, among the 10,530 high school graduates from low-income families last year, only 22 percent took at least one AP exam.

Despite these gains, Nevada’s minority students — particularly its black and Hispanic students — are under-represented in AP courses, according to the College Board report.

Last year, only 21 percent of black graduates in the class of 2013 — 397 students — took at least one AP exam in high school. At 26 percent, the participation rate for Hispanic students wasn’t much better.

For comparison, a third of white graduates and 70 percent of Asian graduates in the class of 2013 took an AP exam.

“We need to take a more proactive approach to identifying and recruiting students who might not otherwise enroll in AP and other advanced coursework,” Erquiaga said. “All students who are academically ready for the rigor of an AP course should have access to rigorous coursework, regardless of their socioeconomic, geographic or racial-ethnic background.”

Nevada still has a long way to go. When looking at the class of 2013 as a whole, only about 17 percent of graduates took and passed the AP exam. While that’s below the national average of 20 percent, it’s an improvement from a decade ago, when less than 10 percent of graduates in the class of 2003 took and passed the exam.

College Board said Nevada can do more to encourage more students to take college-level courses and exams. Lawmakers and education policymakers can provide more funding for professional development for AP teachers and more resources — such as tutoring programs and materials — to help minority AP students in underserved schools.

While students seem to reap the benefits of AP courses — higher grades and graduation rates — even if they don’t pass the AP exam, scoring well has an added bonus. Some universities, including UNLV, offer college credit for high scores on the AP exams, which saves students time and tuition.

“We can work harder to increase the number of students taking AP or other accelerated courses,” Erquiaga said. “I encourage continued efforts across the state to increase access to AP courses for all Nevada students.”

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