The District of Columbia is outpacing the nation in the percentage of African-American students that take and pass Advanced Placement (AP) exams, according to data released by the College Board Feb. 11.

Over 33 percent of Black students who take AP exams in the District achieve passing scores of 3 or higher, compared with 4.6 percent nationwide.

Additionally, the number of students in D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) taking AP exams increased by 45 percent with 2,534 students taking the exam in 2013 compared with 1,753 in 2010. And of those who took the exam in that period, 53 percent earned a passing grade.

“The numbers are an indication that we are heading in the right direction, and that’s aligned with our national test scores, our local test scores. Attendance is up and truancy is down…our enrollment is also up,” DCPS Chief of Teaching and Learning Brian Pick told the AFRO. “We are getting indications across the board that DCPS is on the right track.”

The success in AP exam is largely due to DCPS’ decision to to broaden student access to AP courses, officials said.

Beginning with the 2010-2011 school year, all DCPS schools are required to offer at least one AP course in each of the four core subject areas: math, science, English and social studies.

AP classes are open to any student who has taken the pre-requisite courses and the government covers the administrative costs of taking the exams to ensure that “the financial costs of taking the exams were not a barrier for our students,” Pick said. The cost of taking an AP exam is $89.

DCPS conducted summer institutes for teachers to learn about AP courses and were provided with resources to teach the classes. Now, DCPS is offering 30 of the 34 College Board-approved AP courses this school year, with 141 unique AP course offerings in 15 high schools.

“A few years ago, we made the deliberate decision to raise the bar for our students by ensuring all of our high schools students have access to Advanced Placement courses. In the short time since that policy was put in place, our schools have risen to the challenge and our students are reaping the benefits of greater access to college-level learning,” said DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson in a statement. “We still have work to do, but with more students taking these classes and passing the AP exam every year, we are helping our students prepare for the academic demands of college and changing the culture at our schools.”

According to the College Board, students who take AP courses tend to have higher grade point averages (GPAs) and higher college graduation rates, among other advantages.

“AP courses are important for a lot of reasons: They help ensure students are being exposed to rigorous course work in the classroom, which helps them to do their best in college,” Pick said. “ students who pass AP courses can save on college tuition and fees” since they may be able to skip introductory courses.

And there are other inherent benefits to taking AP courses—whether or not the student passes the exam, Pick added.

“Even if a student does not get a passing score in the test,” Pick said, “studies show that they gain a great deal in terms of perseverance and grit.”


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO