Idaho AP performance shows improvement

(UPDATED, 1:52 p.m. Tuesday, with comments from Luna.)

Idaho high school students showed improvement on Advanced Placement tests, but lag well behind national benchmarks on the SAT college placement exam.

Those are two key findings from national results issued Tuesday.

The College Board, a New York-based nonprofit, released scores for the three sets of tests it administers: the AP exams, the SAT and the PSAT/NMSQT, a practice test for the SAT.

Here are the Idaho results:

AP. More Idaho students are taking the AP tests — challenging exams that can translate into college credits. And more students are getting passing grades.

In 2014, 11.1 percent of Idaho’s juniors and seniors took at least on AP test, up from 7.3 percent in 2004. This year, 7.5 percent of 11th and 12th graders scored at least a 3 on the AP’s five-point grading scale, up from 4.9 percent a decade ago.

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Those improvements also translated into low-income households. More than 18 percent of the Idaho students who passed an AP test come from low-income households, up from 7.5 percent in 2004.

“Idaho has made a great commitment to expanding access to challenging course work for students across the state,” the College Board said in its report.

The improved AP scores are good news, state superintendent Tom Luna said Tuesday, but they tell only part of the story. Two years ago, 16,000 Idaho high school students enrolled in college-level courses. Last year, that figure swelled to 31,000, with much of the growth coming in dual-credit courses. Many students are more comfortable taking college-level dual-credit classes, as opposed to AP classes, which require the student to pass a test in order to qualify for college credit.

Despite the gains on AP scores, Idaho still lags behind the national averages — both in participation and passing grades.

SAT. Participation is high, because Idaho allows all high school students to take the SAT for free in April of their junior year.

Scores are spotty, however. Only 25.7 percent of 2014 graduates scored a 1,550 on the SAT’s 2,400-point scale — the College Board’s benchmark used as a predictor of success in college. Nationally, 42.6 percent of students hit the college-ready benchmark, a result that has remained stagnant.

Idaho’s results are not surprising, according to the College Board. As more students take the SAT, the percentage of students hitting the benchmark tends to decrease.

Still, said Luna, there are advantages to having more students take the SAT. It can show high school students where they need to improve, if they hope to pursue a postsecondary degree. It can also help other students see themselves as college-ready — perhaps for the first time in their lives. “I think it’s a great tool for kids to help motivate them.”

Idaho students are required to take a college placement exam in order to graduate. Most choose to take the SAT, since it is offered at state expense.

PSAT. Here again, Idaho’s participation is high.

Nearly 82 percent of the state’s public high school sophomores took the PSAT in 2013, compared to 38 percent nationally.

This is important, according to the College Board, since a strong score will help identify a student who is likely to succeed in an AP class, while a low score can help identify a student who needs to get back on track.

Idaho students are also able to take the PSAT at state expense.