Low-income students drive Florida’s success on AP tests

Ron Matus

Florida continues to be a national leader on college-caliber Advanced Placement exams, fueled by the success of growing numbers of low-income students.

The Sunshine State ranks No. 4 in the nation in the percentage of graduating seniors who have passed at least one AP exam, according to 2016 data released in a new report from the College Board, the nonprofit that administers the AP program.

At 29.5 percent, Florida outpaces the national average of 21.9 percent and trails only Massachusetts, Maryland and Connecticut, states with far fewer low-income students and far better academic reputations.

AP exams are standardized tests that correspond with dozens of college-caliber high school courses. They are widely viewed as a good gauge of a student’s college readiness and, in some credible quarters, as a good indicator of a state’s educational quality.

The latest results aren’t a fluke. The percentage of graduating seniors passing AP exams in Florida shot up 11 percentage points between 2006 and 2016, putting the state No. 3 in progress over that span. In raw numbers, 47,242 graduating seniors from the class of 2016 had passed at least one, nearly double the number from a decade ago.

Florida’s outcomes are even more impressive given its demographics. Florida has the highest rate of students eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch among states in the AP Top 10, and in most cases, a far higher rate. No state has a bigger differential between the relative poverty of its student body and its overall performance on AP exams. (See chart at the bottom of the post.)

Additional AP numbers from the Florida Department of Education show low-income students are leading the charge. The percentage of low-income graduating seniors who passed an AP exam climbed more than 500 percent between 2006 and 2016, and that group made up more than 60 percent of the total growth in AP-passing graduates, according to DOE figures.

The number of low-income Florida students who passed at least one AP exam grew by more than 500 percent between 2006 and 2016. Source: Florida Department of Education data.

The Sunshine State can trace its AP rise to the late 1990s, when state leaders decided to open AP doors to more low-income and minority students. Equity, higher expectations and targeted funding helped guide their strategy.

“Non-traditional” AP students were given more academic support in middle school, and the state paid their exam fees (now $93 a pop). AP teachers, meanwhile, were given more professional development to handle more diverse, and sometimes more challenging, classrooms.

The number of low-income, black and Hispanic students have increased substantially. Source: Florida Department of Education data.

To be sure, there are gaps in Florida’s progress. The state does not have as high a percentage of students scoring at the highest levels of AP as any of the other Top 10 states (see p. 16 of the College Board report). And the results are not nearly as good in AP math and science, which some expert observers are right to note.

 

State AP performance vs. FRL rank
State AP success rank AP success rate FRL rank FRL % AP-FRL gap
Massachusetts 1 31.0% 7 38.3 6
Maryland 2 30.4% 19 44.2 17
Connecticut 3 30.1% 4 37.1 1
Florida 4 29.5% 42 58.4 38
California 5 28.5% 40 58.1 35
Virginia 6 28.3% 12 39.7 6
New York 7 27.3% 32 50.2 25
Colorado 8 26.9% 15 42 7
New Jersey 9 26.5% 6 38 -3
Illinois 10 25.1% 33 51.4 23
Wisconson 11 24.8% 14 41.9 3
Vermont 12 24.4% 9 39.4 -3
Utah 13 24.3% 3 37 -10
Nevada 14 22.5% 34 53.1 20
Washington 15 22.5% 23 46.3 8
Georgia 16 22.4% 47 62.1 31
Minnesota 17 22.3% 8 38.4 -9
Maine 18 21.3% 22 45.8 4
North Carolina 19 20.6% 37 54 18
Texas 20 20.2% 44 60.1 24
New Hampshire 21 20.1% 1 27.8 -20
Michigan 22 19.9% 27 48.3 5
Deleware 23 18.7% 12 39.7 -11
South Carolina 24 18.7% 39 57.4 15
Rhode Island 25 18.6% 24 46.8 -1
Pennsylvania 26 18.2% 18 43.6 -8
Indiana 27 18.1% 28 49.2 1
Kentucky 28 17.6% 38 54.8 10
Oregon 29 17.5% 36 53.5 7
Arkansas 30 17.0% 45 61.2 15
Ohio 31 16.9% 20 44.6 -11
Alaska 32 16.5% 17 43 -15
Arizona 33 15.6% 35 53.4 2
Hawaii 34 15.5% 30 50.5 -4
Iowa 35 13.0% 13 40.9 -22
South Dakota 36 12.9% 10 39.6 -26
Alabama 37 12.8% 42 58.4 5
Montana 38 12.8% 16 42.1 -22
New Mexico 39 12.3% 49 67.2 10
Idaho 40 12.1% 25 47.4 -15
Tennessee 41 11.9% 43 58.8 2
Oklahoma 42 11.7% 46 61.9 4
Wyoming 43 11.7% 5 37.7 -38
Missouri 44 11.4% 29 49.7 -15
West Virginia 45 10.9% 26 47.9 -19
Kansas 46 10.7% 31 50.1 -15
Nebraska 47 10.6% 21 44.9 -26
North Dakota 48 9.6% 2 30.2 -46
Louisiana 49 7.8% 48 66.8 -1
Mississippi 50 5.9% 50 72.2 0
NATIONAL 21.9% 52
Sources: AP Cohort Data Report Graduating Class of 2016; National Center for Education Statistics

 

You may also like