California often ranks near the bottom of national measures of education quality and student achievement, but a report to be published Tuesday puts the state ahead of the curve in one area: the number of public school students enrolling in Advanced Placement classes and also doing well enough to earn college credits.
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The number of California students who took at least one AP exam during their high school careers increased by almost 77 percent over the last decade, rising from 86,303 in the Class of 2003 to a nation-leading 152,647 in last year's graduating class and far outpacing the 10 percent growth in the number of high school graduates overall during the same period, according to the report from The College Board.
As a share of all graduates, students who sat for at least one AP test rose from 31.9 percent in 2003 to 40.6 percent last year, giving California the sixth-highest participation rate in the U.S. The District of Columbia ranked first, followed by Florida, Maryland, Arkansas, and Virginia.
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The state also ranked sixth in the percentage of students who earned a score of 3 or better - the grade many colleges and universities require to issue college credit for AP classwork - on the rigorous exams, The College Board said. About 27 percent of California's AP test-takers did that well, compared to a national average of about 20 percent.
The College Board administers the Advanced Placement program, which is designed to provide students with college-level coursework and the chance to earn college credits while they are in high school.
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Tuesday's report indicates that California is making progress on eliminating historical gaps in the number of black and Hispanic students who participate in the program compared to Asian and white peers. Last year, black students made up 6.2 of the state's graduates and 3.7 of its AP test-takers. Latinos made up 43.8 of the Class of 2013 and 38.3 of those who took an AP exam.
The College Board highlighted a Southern California school district, the El Monte Union High School District, s a model for increasing both participation in AP classes and the AP test passage rate. The board named El Monte the medium-sized district of the year. Last year, 55 percent of its students scored 3 or better on an AP exam.
"The El Monte Union High School District is a shining example of what can happen when educators insist on providing the highest-quality education for every student - no matter their zip code or background. Through the rigorous course work of Advanced Placement, these schools are better preparing students for success in college and beyond," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement.