Florida students continue to be a national leader on AP exams

Florida students ranked No. 4 among the 50 states last year in the percentage of high school graduates who passed a college-caliber Advanced Placement exam, according to a national report released Wednesday.

AP reportOver the past decade, the report also shows, Florida students ranked No. 2 in gains.

Administered by the nonprofit College Board, AP exams are tied to rigorous AP courses and widely considered to be good predictors of college success. Between 2002 and 2012, the percentage of Florida graduates who passed at least one rose from 14.4 percent to 27.3 percent. Over the same span, the national rate rose from 14.3 percent to 19.5 percent.

The raw numbers better show the scale of impact. In 2002, Florida had 17,256 graduating seniors with AP success on their transcripts. In 2012, it had 39,306.

Florida’s AP success is among the most compelling signs that Florida’s once barrel-bottom public education system is progressing, particularly for low-income and minority students.

For years, AP classes were the near-exclusive domain of white and Asian students in the ‘burbs. But under former Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida began a sustained effort to give low-income and minority students more access. Higher expectations were coupled with better preparation for students, professional development for teachers and targeted investments in funding. Some districts, particularly Hillsborough, got even more radical, aiming to make AP the new normal in schools where AP courses could be counted on one hand.

The result at the school level: In 2002, students at East Bay High in rural Hillsborough took 63 AP exams and passed 36. Last year, they took 770 and passed 323.

The result at the state level: Florida outpaces wealthier, less diverse and – in the education realm – more highly regarded states like Virginia and Connecticut, and now trails only Maryland, New York and Massachusetts.

Update at 2:46 p.m.: DOE press release here. Tallahassee Democrat story here.

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at rmatus@stepupforstudents.org or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at facebook.com/redefinedonline.

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