Florida students rock AP tests despite demographic challenges

Ron Matus

AP cohort data report coverFlorida now trails only Maryland and Connecticut, states with far lower rates of low-income students, in the percentage of graduating seniors who have passed college-caliber Advanced Placement exams.

Thirty percent of Florida’s Class of 2014 found success on at least one AP exam, moving Florida ahead of high-flying Massachusetts and in a tie with Virginia, according to results recently released to states by the College Board, the nonprofit that oversees the AP program.

The national success rate was 21.6 percent.

Florida’s performance is especially noteworthy given its demographics. In fact, no state has a bigger disconnect between AP results and rate of low-income kids. (See chart at the end of this post.)

Florida ranks No. 44 in the percentage of students eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch, at 57.6 percent, according to the most recent federal figures. Massachusetts ranks No. 3, with 35.1 percent; Connecticut No. 5, with 35.7 percent; and Virginia No. 9, with 39.2 percent. Maryland comes in at No. 17, with 41.8 percent.

Despite its challenges, Florida continues to be a pace-setter in AP progress, too, coming in at No. 2 in improved performance over the past decade. Between 2004 and 2014, the percentage of graduating seniors in Florida passing at least one AP exam rose 13.7 percentage points, far surpassing the national rise of 8.9 points. Only Connecticut improved more.

The Florida story isn’t happenstance. In 2000, the state forged a partnership with the College Board to widen the doors of access to low-income and minority students, who had too often been shut out of AP classrooms. At the same time, it better identified potential AP students, better grounded them for tougher courses and better prepared AP teachers for more diverse classrooms.

Success skyrocketed. In 2000, Florida students passed less than 40,000 AP exams; last year, they passed roughly 150,000.

The trend lines have been especially steep for minority students:

FL AP black trend lines

FL AP Hispanic trend lines

Many consider AP courses to be good prep for college rigor, and AP test performance to be good predictors of college success. The trend lines in Florida, then, suggest tens of thousands of high school graduates each year, many of them low-income students, are better prepared for college than their peers just a decade ago.

In the class of 2004, 21,383 graduates had passed at least one AP exam. In last year’s graduating class, 43,154 had done so.

The latest AP results come as Florida policy makers grapple with the latest chorus of complaints about the state’s accountability regimen for public schools. Could the state’s AP success be tied to its academic gains in early grades? And by extension, to those oft-maligned accountability policies, and/or policies expanding school choice? Some make the case.

This College Board report highlights other interesting tidbits about the latest Florida results. For additional state-by-state context, check out our quickie chart:

AP v FRL chart

 Other coverage: Orlando Sentinel. Washington Post. EdFly, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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Is Florida’s AP program really overflowing with success? It’s probably more realistic to say that the glass is half empty. | Bridge to Tomorrow April 12, 2015 - 9:23 pm

[…] you are a Florida education policy-maker who read last week’s posts by Ron Matus at redefinedonline.org and Mike Thomas at Ed Fly about the 2014 Advanced Placement cohort report released by the Florida […]

Laurie April 21, 2015 - 10:17 pm

How can Florida’s schools pay for the exams? Why don’t all the other states pay for their students to take the test. How does Florida, a state without an individual income tax, afford paying for tests, when a state with one, like NY, has students pay? Does Florida get paid you the College Board for each test given or passing grade? Students who take an AP class in Florida and do not do well enough to be deemed able to pass (get a 3 or higher) an AP exam, pay for the test themselvesif they want to take it.
While I applaud the improvements and the state’s generosity, it makes me suspicious. Where does the money trail lead?

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