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placeholder June 8, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 11   •   Oakland, CA
Students take AP exams at above-average rates

Last month, more than 2 million high school students endured more than 4 million Advanced Placement exams in an effort to get a jump on college credit and demonstrate college readiness.

A lot is riding on those exams. Students who do well can cut college expenses or take upper-level college classes. College credits earned in high school can also pave the way for a double major or a semester overseas.

The College Board, which publishes the exams, says students who attain an AP score of 3 or higher not only earn higher GPAs in college than their peers, but are also more likely to actually graduate.

With AP courses serving as one indicator of the extent to which high schools challenge students and prepare them for college, the Council for American Private Education obtained from the College Board summary data about AP exams and scores for students in private schools who took the tests in 2014.

It turns out that private school students took 455,009, or 11 percent, of the 4,022,216 AP exams taken by U.S. students in public and private schools in 2014.

The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that private secondary schools enrolled only 7.8 percent of the nation's secondary school students in 2013-14. Thus, private schools accounted for a disproportionately high number of AP exams.

College-ready performance

The numbers are even more impressive when examining the share of students who scored 3 or higher, the benchmark generally accepted by colleges for awarding credit. Students in public and private high schools received a grade of 3 or higher on 2,364,319 AP exams in 2014, a combined success rate of 59 percent.

But of the 455,009 AP exams taken by students in private schools, 324,524 yielded a 3+ score, for a success rate of 71 percent.

In other words, private schools, which again enrolled 7.8 percent of high school students, accounted for 14 percent of all AP exams on which students achieved scores predictive of college success. The mean AP score for private school students in 2014 was 3.24, and the mean score for public school students was 2.82.

Exam ratio

How does the number of AP exams taken in 2014 compare with the number of enrolled students? NCES estimates there were 14,639,000 students in grades 9-12 in public schools in 2013-14 and 1,235,000 students in the same grades in private schools. In 2014, the ratio of AP exams to students was 24 percent in public schools and 37 percent in private schools.

Put another way, 24 AP exams were administered for every 100 public school students and 37 exams were administered for every 100 private school students.

What's more, the ratio of successfully completed AP exams (i.e., those receiving a score of 3 or higher) to students was 14 percent in public schools and 26 percent in private schools.

Keep in mind that total enrollment in grades 9-12 is the denominator in these calculations, even though most AP examinees are 11th and 12th graders.

Achievement Gaps

Gaps in AP scores between black students and white students are narrower in private schools than in public schools. The average AP score for black students in 2014 was 2.01 for students in public schools and 2.72 for students in private schools. For white students the average score was 2.99 in public schools and 3.27 in private schools.

Simple subtraction yields a black/white achievement gap of 0.55 in private schools and 0.98 in public schools.

African American students in public and private schools in 2014 took 284,126 AP exams. Private school students accounted for 18,325, or 6.4 percent, of those exams and 11.5 percent of exams with a score of 3 or higher — scores predictive of college success.

In public schools, the percentage of AP tests taken by African American students that yielded a score of 3 or higher was 28.9 percent, while in private schools it was 54.9 percent, a figure approaching the 58.8 percent average national AP success rate for all students in public and private schools.

The private school AP score advantage held true for every racial and ethnic group whose results are reported by the College Board. Specifically, private school scores exceeded public school scores by the following margins: American Indian/Alaskan (0.52); Asian/Asian American (0.21); Black/African American (0.71); Mexican American (0.61); Puerto Rican (0.50); Other Hispanic (0.71); White (0.28); Other (0.48); All Students (0.42).

Of the 34 AP exams offered by the College Board, the three most popular among private school students were United States History (53,475), English Literature and Composition (49,571) and English Language and Composition (46,552).

(Compiled with permission from the June 2015 CAPE Outlook newsletter of the Council for American Private Education; to learn more,www.capenet.org.)

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