AP Test Participation Doubles Since 1998

January 3, 2003
Results of the 2002 Advanced Placement (AP) tests released by Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) show a substantial increase in participation, combined with a slight increase in average performance level over last year - starting to reverse a trend that has been ongoing throughout the county, state, and nation for the past several years.

Last year, 6,785 MCPS students took a total of 13,689 AP tests - double the level of participation since 1998. In 2002, the average score was 3.48, up from 3.45 the previous year. Seventy-nine percent of test-takers scored a 3 or higher on the exams, up from 78 percent the previous year. (A score of 3 or higher serves as a potential qualifier for college credit.)

The rapid growth in AP participation has been accompanied by a slight decline in performance since 1998. Generally, when the number of students taking AP tests increases, the average group performance goes down. While that trend applies to MCPS since 1998, the school system started to reverse it in 2002.

From 1998 to 2002, the number of AP tests taken by MCPS students increased 124 percent (6,124 to 13,689), and the number of students taking at least one AP test increased 92 percent (3,525 to 6,785). The average score on the 5-point scale went from 3.59 in 1998 to 3.48 in 2002. In 2001, the average score was 3.45.

Nationally, the number of AP tests taken during that same time period increased 56 percent, and the number of students taking at least one AP test increased 48 percent. The accompanying national decline in average scores was from 3.02 to 2.99.

Increased MCPS participation in AP courses was seen across subject areas but was largest in psychology (from 713 to 1,557), English language and composition (768 to 1,582), English literature and composition (683 to 1,474) and statistics (91 to 514). A new test in 2002, world history, was the fourth most popular in MCPS, with 1,360 students taking it.

Racial/ethnic groups

Countywide gains in participation also were seen for each racial/ethnic group. African American and Hispanic students showed the largest proportional gains. The number of African American and Hispanic students taking an AP test more than doubled from 1998 to 2002.

In 2002, 54 percent of Asian American students took at least one AP test, an increase of 20 percentage points from 1998. White students had an increase of 19 percentage points (28 to 47 percent). There was an 8-percentage point increase from 1998 for African American students (7 to 15 percent) and Hispanic students (10 to 18 percent) taking AP tests.

All racial/ethnic groups showed a decline in average performance over the same period with the increased participation. Matching increased participation rates, declines were steepest for African American and Hispanic students, with average scores for these groups down more than .3 of a point. Still, MCPS racial/ethnic groups averaged at least .3 of a point higher than their counterparts nationally in 2002.

Overall, 79 percent of MCPS students taking AP exams scored 3 or higher on the tests in 2002. This includes 83 percent of white, 76 percent of Asian American, 71 percent of Hispanic and 57 percent of African American students.

Special services

Students receiving special services also participated in AP tests. Of students tested, 69 enrolled in English for Speakers of Other Languages had average scores of 3.65 - .17 of a point above the county average. The 264 students receiving Free and Reduced-price Meals who took AP tests averaged 2.85, and 121 students with Individualized Education Programs averaged 3.37.

Results by schools

Countywide participation increases were seen in all 21 high schools that were open in 1998, and the two high schools opened since then - James Hubert Blake and Northwest - had participation increases from 2000. Four schools saw the number of students taking AP tests at least triple: Gaithersburg (64 to 237 students), John F. Kennedy (69 to 242 students), James Hubert Blake (58 to 203 students from 2000) and Damascus (81 to 248 students).

In addition, 11 high schools reversed the usual trend of declining average score with increasing participation. Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Montgomery Blair, Winston Churchill, Damascus, Col. Zadok Magruder, Northwest, Poolesville, Rockville, Seneca Valley, Watkins Mill and Walt Whitman high schools all increased both their average score and participation from 1998.
The largest average score gain among this group was Bethesda-Chevy Chase, with .26 of a point. Damascus had the largest increase in participation (206 percent) for any school with an increase in average score.

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