2019 | Schools

County AP Test Taking Increases, Performance Drops

Declines reported across all ethnic groups in MCPS

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More Montgomery students are taking advanced placement tests, but countywide performance on the tests is decreasing.

Between 2016 and 2018, the number of advanced placement tests taken among Montgomery County students increased by 5,644, but the percentage of students who received a score of 3 or higher — the threshold that indicates college readiness — decreased by more than 3%.

There were declines among all ethnic groups in county schools, while AP exam performance increased for the same groups in the state and across the nation. Local students still outperformed their peers across the state and nation.

Similar decreases were reported among students taking International Baccalaureate exams in the same time frame.

“I think any decrease warrants us to take a look at what it could stem from, and we shouldn’t ignore those decreases,” school board president Shebra Evans said.

A spokesman blamed the drop on the increase in students taking the tests but Evans disagreed.

Some community members have been hesitant about expanding access to AP classes, alleging it “lowers the classes’ standards,” Evans said.

While she said she isn’t clear why performance is decreasing, she doesn’t think it’s fair to pin the blame on the new students participating, who are largely from minority families.

“We want to allow all of our students the chance to succeed and for them to know they can do really well and we believe they can achieve,” she said.

Maryland has the fourth-highest total of students who score a 3 or higher on AP tests. Maryland spent seven years with the highest total until dropping to No. 2 in 2016 and No. 4 in 2018.

Twenty-thousand county students took about 40,400 AP tests in 2018, equating to more than one-third of total AP tests taken statewide, but about one-third of the tests did not yield a score of three or higher, according to school system data published last month.

The school system has amped up its efforts to diversify Advanced Placement classes in recent years, a school system spokesman said, designating eight schools as “equal opportunity schools” that focus on providing support to students who previously didn’t have access to the high-rigor courses.

“What we know about AP is the greater access and support students receive in those classes, the more successful they can be,” said Derek Turner, the spokesman.

He said the decrease in performance is simply due to the increase in students taking the tests, saying the decrease “is minor in relation.”

In 2018, the most frequently taken AP exams by county students were U.S. Government and Politics, English Language and Composition, World History, Psychology, English Literature and Composition and U.S. History.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com