States Close the Achievement Gap in Advanced Placement Courses

A new report from the NGA Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) titled Raising Rigor, Getting Results: Lessons Learned from AP Expansion, has demonstrated that it is possible for states to raise rigor and get results at scale by increasing student access to AP courses.

The report looks at the efforts of six states—Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada and Wisconsin—that received funding as part of the NGA Center’s Advanced Placement Expansion project to increase the participation of minority and low-income students in AP courses at 51 pilot high schools in rural and urban school districts.

As part of the Expansion project, the NGA Center provided six states with a framework for approaching program and policy changes needed to improve AP course enrollment and success. According to the report, the states achieved some striking results:

  • The number of students taking AP courses rose 65 percent over two years, and the number of minority and low-income students taking AP exams more than doubled.
  • Performance on the AP exam, as measured by the percentage scoring “at mastery”—defined as scoring a 3 or higher on the exam—accelerated at a faster rate than the national average. The percentage scoring at mastery in the pilot sites increased from 6.6 percent in 2005–2006 to 8.3 percent in 2007–2008. During this same period, the national average rose from 14.8 percent to 15.2 percent.
  • With 55,000 students, together the 51 pilot high schools are large enough to be thought of as a “state.” If taken as a “state,” the NGA Center pilot schools outperformed similarly sized states, which only saw performance grow from 6.2 percent at mastery to 6.5 percent at mastery during the same period.

The report also recommends that governors interested in expanding college-level learning opportunities set goals for how much they want to grow AP course enrollment and success during the next five years and that they enact comprehensive policies that expand student access to AP classes; build capacity and offer extra support so teachers and students are prepared for the rigors of AP; and create incentives for students, such as tying state scholarship money to taking an AP course.

Download the entire report.

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