State strategies expand student access to Advanced Placement
Since its inception in 1955, the Advanced Placement program has been used by millions of high school students who want to experience the rigor of college-level courses before graduation. The long-running program continues to gain popularity. In fact, participation in AP classes by high school graduates in the United States nearly doubled over the past decade. While AP courses are available in many high schools across the country, some states, like Indiana, require every high school to provide students with access to the classes.
Indiana high schools must, at the minimum, offer two AP courses — science and math. With federal grant assistance, the Indiana Department of Education is able to cover the costs for students to take AP science and math tests free of charge.
This requirement seems to be accomplishing its goal. Between 2003 and 2013, the number of Indiana students who had taken an AP test before graduation grew to over 22,000, a 174 percent increase.
Other states continue to encourage growth in the AP program in an effort to better prepare high school students for college. In 2011, Iowa passed a law requiring all of its school districts to offer AP courses in one of three ways: on-site at the high school, through a partnership with another district, or by using the Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy.
The IOAPA offers 13 AP courses and enrolled a total of 355 students last school year. It is funded by an appropriation from the University of Iowa. Prior to the creation of the IOAPA in 2001, access to AP courses was uneven in Iowa. The program was created to give students from small, rural school districts access to AP courses, but is not limited to this population.
“Some schools have zero AP courses, so they come to us for all their AP needs,” says Kristin Flanary, administrator of the IOAPA. “Some schools have multiple AP courses, but might not offer a particular one, so we have students take our courses that way.”
With the help of programs like the IOAPA, the number of AP courses taken by Iowa students continues to rise. In 2014, 18,860 AP exams were taken by Iowa students, compared to only 8,192 in 2004.
Many other Midwestern states have also seen increased AP participation over the past 10 years. Illinois and Kansas both saw growth of over 100 percent — higher than the national average of 95 percent — and Nebraska nearly tripled the number of students who left high school with AP Exam experience.
This growth trend can also be seen among certain populations of traditionally underrepresented high school students. According to an annual report by the College Board (a nonprofit association of educational institutions that administers the AP program), the number of low-income graduates who have taken AP courses has more than quadrupled since 2003.
The College Board urges educators to focus on the barriers that students from certain ethnic, racial and socioeconomic groups face regarding access to AP courses. For example, some states, like Illinois, use federal and state funds to provide the AP Exam for free to students who have acute financial constraints.