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How Alabama is Improving the Test Scores of Minority Students

September 10, 2014
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How Alabama is Improving the Test Scores of Minority Students
Students who score well on AP exams could potentially graduate early — saving a lot of money on college tuition. Gates Foundation/Flickr Creative Commons
Over a six-year period, the number of teens passing AP exams has increased an amazing 232 percent.

The state of Alabama ranks at the top of the nation when it comes to improvement in Advanced Placement scores.

If Alabama’s new distinction surprises you, you’re not alone. After the results were announced by the College Board (the organization that administers the test), even the State Superintendent’s Tommy Bice said in a press conference that when it comes to public education, “This is not usually where we’re ranked.”

According to the Associated Press, the number of students nationwide passing math, science, and English AP exams has increased by 49 percent over the past six years. Trumping that figure significantly, Alabama saw 136 percent boost in the same amount of time. More of the state’s high school students are also taking the exam — from 4,037 students in 2008 to 9,534 in 2014.

More notably, as Bice also pointed out, “I think the most important piece that I would add to that, is this is at the same time we were looking forward to including more under-represented groups…So not only have we increased the percentage of Advanced Placement exams passed, we’ve increased the number of minority students [passing them].”

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Indeed, AL.com reports that from 2008 to 2014, the number of minority students passing the AP tests rose from 308 to 1,024, which is a stunning 232 percent increase in comparison to the country’s increase of 112 percent.

Each year, millions of students take one or more Advanced Placement classes at their high schools, which mimic the workload and pace of intro-level college courses. Each May, these students are given a standardized multiple choice exam and/or an essay based on their AP subject(s). The test is then scored on a 5-point scale, with 5 being the highest. Getting a score of 3 or above is considered passing, and in some situations (depending upon the university), a student can receive college credit for it. For example, if a high school student scored a 4 on her U.S. history AP exam, he or she could place out of U.S. History 101 or opt for a higher-level class once enrolled in college.

Ultimately, students who have scored well on AP exams could potentially graduate early — saving a lot of dough on college tuition. And thanks to Alabama’s impressive passing rates, the state’s families have saved a whopping $36 million (!) in tuition costs, the Associated Press reports.

ALSO: Delaware Pushes to Get More Low-Income Students Enrolled in Higher Education

So how did this happen? Since 2008, the state set a goal of improving scores with its Advanced Placement Training and Incentive Program. Funded with $13.2 million in public and private grants, it provided teacher training and support stipends for teachers and students in school districts throughout the state.

Alabama (along with 42 other states) also received some federal backing for the tests. The exams, which cost $89 per subject, can set a test-taker back a lot of money. In 2013, the state received about $252,130 out of $28.8 million that the U.S. Education Department provided to help pay for low-income students to take the AP.

If anything, as Gov. Robert Bentley joked at a press conference following the announcement of his state’s new top-dog AP ranking, “It’s good to be No. 1 in something other than football.”

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