More high school students are taking and passing Advanced Placement exams, nationally, than ever before, and Massachusetts ranks among the country’s leaders in successful AP testing, officials said.
The high school graduating class of 2012 took about one million AP exams, more than double the number in 2002, according to statistics from the AP annual report released Wednesday.
In Massachusetts, 27.9 percent of last year’s graduating high school class passed their AP tests. Only two other states — New York with 28 percent and Maryland with 29.6 percent — did better, representing a 12-percent improvement over the past decade.
Deborah Davis, spokeswoman for the College Board, said in an email the number of AP tests taken shows a change in the economy and the education system.
“It is increasingly evident that a college education is important in today’s economy,” she said. “And as colleges are growing more competitive, students want to show admissions officers that they have taken the most rigorous coursework available to them in high school.”
The Commonwealth also boasts an AP District of the Year, The Chelsea public school district. The award is only given to three districts across the country for increasing both access to AP courses and success within them.
JC Considine, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Education and Secondary Education, said these statistics show a promising trend in the state.
“This is just an indicator for the remarkable results we’re seeing here in Massachusetts,” he said. “We continue to see more and more public high school students in Massachusetts participating and succeeding in AP exams.”
Massachusetts has been making an effort to ensure high graduation rates, Considine said.
“There are a lot of reasons [for this],” he said. “There have been a number of concentrated efforts to make sure that kids are graduating on time, that kids are learning the material, and that kids are ready to move on to the next level, whether that be college or career”
Considine said these encouraging statistics come after years of support for education in the Commonwealth.
“We had made a decision a number of years ago to set a high bar [for education], and we’ve stuck to that high bar,” he said. “It’s paying great dividends.”
Despite increasing scores, one of the major educational issues addressed in the report was that of ethnic disparity across all states.
Nationally, less than five percent of African Americans passed an AP exam when they accounted for more than nine percent of test takers, according to the report. Hispanics, who were about 18 percent of those taking at least one test, contributed less than 16 percent of passing scores.
Students identified as White or Asian/Asian American/Pacific Islander had the opposite results. While both were a large part of the body of test takers, they also constituted more of those passing the exams.
The major reason for this disparity is that many schools that have a large number of minority students simply do not offer AP courses, Davis said.
The report showed Massachusetts was making progress on the issue, and measures to combat the ethnic difference in AP success are being enacted as locally as the city level.
Matthew Wilder, spokesman for Boston public schools, said the city is attempting to correct this issue.
“There are treatment gaps that we are trying address and to close,” he said. “That is definitely a major priority of ours, so our work is centered around ensuring that our students, no matter what ethnicity or race they are, they have access to the same kind of high-quality education as anyone else.”
Jordan Eisenback, a graduate student teaching English at Boston University, said AP courses help students prepare for basic college courses.
“Students that have taken AP exams in literature are better prepared for the lower level English literature classes” he said. “Although these courses are not designed to completely replace college level English courses, they do familiarize students with close reading skills and texts that they might encounter in college.”
Hal Mason, assistant headmaster at Brookline High School, said the root of the educational success in Massachusetts does not lie in secondary curriculum.
“It’s a decades-long tradition of education and a value of education in the Commonwealth that I think makes the difference,” he said. “People care about education — teachers care.”