Idaho’s AP numbers improve — yet lose ground

More Idaho high school students are graduating with Advanced Placement credits in hand.

But Idaho’s improving AP numbers still lag well behind national averages. What’s more, Idaho continues to lose ground compared to the rest of the nation.

The College Board released the latest round of AP results last week — covering the high school class of 2017. The nonprofit hailed the national numbers: more than 711,000 seniors passed at least one AP test, up from 423,000 a decade ago. Students can parlay a passing score on an AP test into college credit, providing a low-cost jumpstart toward a college degree.

In Idaho, high school students can take AP classes at state expense, using a personal $4,125 allowance to cover the $94 cost of the exam. Because the state is making AP a budget priority — as part of a rapidly growing and increasingly costly advanced opportunities program — the Idaho numbers take on some added significance.

Here’s how the numbers break down:

  • In 2017, 12.7 percent of Idaho public high school graduates scored a 3 or better on at least one AP test, a passing grade that can translate into college credit. That ranked No. 39 in the nation. For comparison, Massachusetts topped the nation, with 32.1 percent of high school grads passing an AP exam, while Mississippi came in last with a 6.5 percent pass rate.
  • Nationally, 22.8 percent of 2017 graduates passed at least one AP exam.
  • Not surprisingly, with Idaho picking up the cost of AP tests, more students are taking and passing these exams. In 2007, only 9.8 percent of Idaho graduates passed an AP exam. But Idaho isn’t keeping up with other states, as the College Board report notes. At just 2.9 percentage points, Idaho’s 10-year rate of improvement ranks No. 45 nationally.
  • But even as more Idaho students take AP exams, their success rate is solid. In 2017, 61.2 percent of Idaho students passed their AP exams; the national pass rate came in at 56.2 percent.

As the state’s education, political and business leaders try to encourage more high school graduates to continue their education, the emphasis on AP is part of a larger strategy. While Idaho high school students earned about 23,000 college credits through AP, they also earned more than 153,000 credits by taking college-level classes. The advanced opportunities program covers the cost of dual credit classes, as well as AP tests.

Overall, the numbers suggest Idaho is closing the gap, said Tina Polishchuk, the State Department of Education’s advanced opportunities coordinator.

“More and more students are opting to take college level courses through dual credit or AP,” she said. “But the districts that do it best are the ones that create a space for dual credit and AP to work together in the best interest of the student, and give students choices.”

And the advanced opportunities program means different things in different districts. West Ada, the state’s largest district, emphasizes dual-credit classes to the exclusion of AP, while the neighboring Boise district takes the opposite tack, said Mike Keckler, a spokesman for the State Board of Education. And many rural districts struggle to find teachers who are qualified to teach AP classes.

Still, Keckler finds two takeaways in Idaho’s improving AP numbers.

“First, Idaho students are increasingly better prepared for college-level work while in high school,” he said. “Second the state’s investment in Advanced Opportunities is having the intended effect by providing student access to these courses.”

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