Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Minorities
NCES 2010-015
July 2010

Indicator 14. Advanced Placement (AP) Courses

In 2008, a total of 12,323 U.S. public high schools offered Advanced Placement (AP) courses to their graduating classes (The College Board 2008). Students who take AP courses in high school are eligible to take AP exams and may earn college credit for scores above a minimum threshold. Currently, 37 AP exams are offered, and a school that offers the AP program offers 10 different AP courses, on average. Students who complete AP courses may be better prepared for college than their peers and could potentially complete their college degrees in a shorter time period.

In 2008, over 1.5 million students in the United States took at least one AP exam, a number that has more than doubled since 10 years ago. While the number of students taking an AP exam increased for all racial and ethnic groups, the largest relative increase in AP exam taking was among Black students. Just over 31,000 Black students participated in 1999, while more than 108,500 Black students participated in 2008. In addition, Hispanic student participation in AP exam taking has more than tripled over the same time period, increasing from 62,900 students to 209,700 students.  

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AP examinations are scored on a scale from 1 to 5, with a 5 being the highest. The College Board considers a student to have been "successful" on an exam if he or she receives a 3 or higher. In 2008, the average score across all exams was a 2.83, with 57 percent of all test scores being a 3 or higher. The highest mean score was attained by Asian students (3.08), followed by White (2.96), Hispanic (2.42), American Indian/Alaska Native (2.39), and Black students (1.91). Some 26 percent of Black students received a score of 3 or higher, compared with 64 percent of Asian students. 

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The most common AP exams taken each year are calculus AB, English literature and composition, and U.S. history. The average score on the calculus AB exam was 3.01 and ranged from a low of 2.00 for Black students to a high of 3.23 for Asian students. For the English literature and composition exam, the average score was 2.84. White students scored the highest on this exam (3.03), followed by Asian students (2.94). The average score on the U.S. history exam was 2.57. On this exam, Asian students scored the highest (2.81), followed by White (2.73), American Indian/Alaska Native (2.19), Hispanic (1.93), and Black students (1.77).

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Snapshot of Hispanic Subgroups: Advanced Placement

In 2008, Hispanic students in the United States took about 338,700 AP exams. The most common exam taken by Hispanic students, Spanish language, had the highest average scores for each Hispanic subgroup—3.69 for both Mexican American students and Other Hispanic students, and 3.27 for Puerto Rican students. In addition to the 57,200 Spanish language exams they completed, students of Hispanic ethnicity also completed about 40,300 exams in English language and composition and approximately 39,400 exams in U.S. history in 2008.18 Puerto Rican students had the highest average score of the Hispanic subgroups on four of the five most commonly taken AP exams—biology, calculus AB, English language and composition, and U.S. history. 

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18 English language and composition and U.S. history exams represented approximately 12 percent each of the exams taken by Hispanic students. In comparison, 12 percent of all AP exams taken in 2008 were English language and composition and 11 percent were U.S. history.