Scores Down As More Kids Take Advanced Placement Tests

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Advanced Placement test scores are down. Credit: sigmaman, Flickr

Last year saw a record number of students taking the Advanced Placement test.

But as more kids are taking the test, more kids are failing it -- especially in the South.

An analysis by USA Today found that more than two in five students (41.5 percent) failed with a score of 1 or 2. That failure rate is up by 36.5 percent from 1999, the newspaper reports.

In the South -- defined by the Census as the lower half of the United States from Texas to Delaware -- almost half of all students taking the test (48.8 percent) earned a 1 or 2.
Students took a record 2.9 million AP tests last year. The tests see how well high school students do on college-level coursework. Passing the exam with a score of 3 or higher (on a scale of 1 to 5) may earn a student college credit (depending on the college).

USA Today reports that low test scores may suggest schools are pushing students into AP courses without adequate preparation or schools are not training enough teachers to deliver the high-level material.

"The standards don't teach themselves," Stanford University's Linda Darling-Hammond, a teacher-quality expert, tells USA Today.

AP tests should not be treated as "another silver bullet" that will raise standards and assure academic success, she adds.

"You have to build the whole system," she tells the paper. "You can't just bring in one thing and think that it's going to solve everything."

Education sources tell USA Today it's misleading to lump all scores together. Scores on AP physics tests, for example, are up while English literature scores are dropping.

Joan Lord of the Southern Regional Education Board also tells USA Today there's more than meets the eye when it comes to the South's AP scores.

While Arkansas has the country's highest failure rate at 70.3 percent, Lord tells the paper it has made the most progress of any Southern state -- boosting participation among seniors from 11 percent in 2003 to 33 percent in 2008. Meanwhile, the percentage of students who passed at least one AP exam rose from 6 percent to 11 percent.

"We've democratized the test and haven't dropped the scores," Lord tells the paper. "We're excited."

Related: Terrible Students' Test FAILs Will Shock and Amuse You

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