There was a good reason for representatives of the College Board, which administers Advanced Placement tests across the nation, to be in Maryland recently. After all, it’s worth a visit when the state ranks No. 1 in the nation in terms of AP achievement for the third straight year.
And there was a good reason that Arundel High School was one of three that those representatives and State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick chose to tour to highlight AP successes. After all, the school’s enrollment in AP courses is up nearly 31 percent over the last four years, and the number of students taking AP exams is up nearly 85 percent. Last year, 53 percent of Arundel students who took AP exams scored 3 or better, the target to receive college credit.
Across Anne Arundel County we have many AP success stories to tell. From the ninth-grader who enrolled in AP so that he could challenge himself to the senior whose 14 AP courses and resulting exam scores will allow her to enter college as a sophomore, we are doing great things to prepare children to excel once they leave our classrooms.
To be clear, there is much more work to be done. However, we have spent a great deal of time opening the doors of our AP classrooms to students in traditionally underrepresented groups and in convincing students that we believe in their potential and so should they. In the last school year, we administered more than 10,000 AP exams for the first time. Since 2006-2007, AP enrollment has increased 11.5 percent but the number of exams taken by our students has risen 34 percent. The rise for African-American and Hispanic students taking the exams is markedly more dramatic, at 97.7 percent and 80.6 percent, respectively.
While the percentage of students scoring a 3 or higher on exams fell last year from the year before, we still have more students earning college credit through exams – more than 4,900 in 2009-2010 – than ever before. Further, the data is clear that students who have the experience of AP courses and exams, even if they do not score a 3 on the exam, are more likely to do better in college coursework because of the experience gained in high schools. Those are powerful reinforcements that can pull students into classrooms and afford them the experience of rigorous instruction. There is no success without access, and we must continue to open doors that for too many years have been slammed shut for some of our students.
The challenge for our school system – and for all systems across our nation – is to continue to develop the relationships that allow us to see the potential that lies within our students and pay it as much attention as we do the data that lies on a page before us. For all that data can tell us – and we must not underestimate its importance – it cannot measure a child’s heart, or desire, or passion.
Those relationships are a big reason we are seeing success in our AP classrooms and elsewhere across our system. We must continue to forge them, however, if we are to reach our ultimate goal – that every child achieves his or her true potential.
The writer is Kevin M. Maxwell, Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools.