Drew Cox has already passed four Advanced Placement exams, and if he succeeds in the five that he will take later this spring — as he hopes — he will have netted a significant amount of college credit before he even sets foot on a college campus.
“We’ve experienced a college-preparatory curriculum, and I think with our credits, we should be done with a semester (of credits), maybe more depending on the university,” said Cox, a senior at Joplin High School. “It’s crazy to think about.”
Cox joins a rising number of Missouri students who are taking — and passing — Advanced Placement exams, according to a new report from the College Board. The AP program allows students to develop college-level knowledge and skills and earn college credit while still in high school; Missouri students can earn at least three college credits for each AP score of three or higher.
The number of Missouri high school graduates who scored at least three on the AP tests — which are scored on a five-point scale — has more than doubled, increasing from 2,766 in 2003 to 5,767 last year. More graduates scored three or higher on an exam in 2013 than the total number of graduates who took exams (4,256) a decade ago, according to data from the report that was provided by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“The increase in students taking the exams and succeeding shows that we’re moving in the right direction toward preparing our students for college and career,” said Sharon Helwig, assistant education commissioner in the department’s Office of College and Career Readiness. “Every student should have the opportunity to take an AP class.”
Kansas and Oklahoma saw similar trends as Missouri, according to the College Board report. The number of graduates taking Advanced Placement exams in Kansas increased from 2,535 in 2003 to 5,231 last year, while the number of students scoring at least a three on an exam rose from 1,727 to 3,177 during the same time frame. The number of Oklahoma graduates taking AP exams rose from 5,855 to 8,228 during that decade, and the number of students scoring three or higher on an exam rose from 2,972 to 4,111 in those 10 years, according to the report.
Like her classmate at Joplin High School, senior Adelle Kanan took four AP classes last year and is currently enrolled in AP statistics, Spanish, biology, government and English literature/composition, all of which will test later this spring.
Kanan said she’s not as concerned about getting college credit out of the courses as she is about using the class material to be prepared for college. She plans to attend a four-year university after graduation and ultimately attend medical school; fittingly, her favorite course is biology because it’s the subject that holds the most interest for her.
“I plan on going into biology and majoring in it in college,” she said. “I’d like to get credit out of that one, for sure. I think it’s a possibility.”
Sue Day, a counselor at Joplin High School, said that while the number of Joplin students taking AP courses hasn’t necessarily increased, the district has increased the number of courses it offers at an AP level. Administrators have said the new high school, scheduled for August completion, will have more advanced course options for students.
That’s partly because of a new accreditation model that rewards schools for students who take and pass AP tests, Day said.
“I think what you’re going to see is AP courses expanding even more now that the state has tied our accreditation to more points for these courses,” she said.
Other local educators say AP courses often share student enrollment numbers with dual-credit classes, which are offered in partnership with colleges and universities for college credit.
Over the past several years, Webb City High School has increased its AP course offerings to include English language and literature, government and a number of sciences, counselor Karen Talbott said. As a result, the number of students who are enrolled in those courses has also increased, she said.
“The interest is there,” she said.
But perhaps just as many students choose dual-credit as they do AP classes. Passing a dual-credit course means automatic college credit, whereas college credit for an AP course depends on a student’s exam score, Talbott said. AP courses are usually cheaper, costing only the price of the exam, she said.
Although “fairly stable” numbers of students are enrolled in AP classes at Seneca High School, the choice between AP or dual-credit exists there as well, principal Willie Ng said.
“I think some of the kids would rather take dual-credit because the AP classes require a test,” he said. “I think more students are willing to pay that money (for dual-credit) so they can get a jump start on their college credits.”
While Missouri doubled the number of graduates who scored three or higher on the exams over 10 years, it still ranked low nationally in students who passed. Approximately 20.1 percent of public high school graduates nationally earned at least a three on an AP exam last year; in Missouri, that figure came in at 9.5 percent, ahead of only four other states, the state education department said.
McDonald County was one of six school districts in Missouri that was listed this year on the College Board’s AP Honor Roll, which recognizes districts that increase access to AP courses for their students and that maintain or improve the rate at which their students earn a score of three or higher on their exams.