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Advanced placement test scores improve

September 13, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Advanced Placement Exam scores rose last year among Washington County students, and more teens are taking the college-level tests.

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The results demonstrate academic improvement but they also show more ambition to be college-bound achievers, according to Jan Keefer, supervisor of assessment for Washington County Board of Education.

"You have more kids going further with their high school course work and more who want to move on with their education," she said. "They feel that they are ready to be placed at a certain level."

A student survey also indicates leanings toward higher education. Students who took the Scholastic Assessment Test last year voluntarily answered questions about what degrees they intend to pursue.

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Of those who answered, 31 percent plan to get bachelor's degrees while 26 percent said they hope to get master's degrees. Another 18 percent plan to seek doctoral degrees.

The SAT and AP exams are both standardized tests administered through the College Board. AP tests are given at the end of college-level courses offered in high school. Washington County offers 30 in various subjects, including calculus and physics.

Colleges generally give credit for AP courses if students get at least a score of three or higher (the range is one to five). For advanced students and their parents, AP courses are a chance to get a head start and save money.

The average AP exam score in Washington County jumped from 2.4 in 1995 to 2.93 in 1999. During the same five-year period the state average increased less, from 3.14 to 3.24. The national average remained at 3.02.

The portion of AP test-taking students getting a three or above has grown from 45 percent in 1995 to 66.2 percent last year. Of the 197 who took AP exams in 1999, 159 scored high enough to get college credit.

The number of students taking the exams increased 18 percent from 167 in 1995 to 197 in 1999. The upward trend was not steady. In 1998, it dropped from 217 to 191.

Keefer attributes the slide to the School Board's budget decision to stop paying test costs that school year. The board now pays half the $74 cost of taking an AP exam.

The number of tests taken also rose from 251 in 1995 to 317 in 1999. Some students take more than one exam in order to get more college credit. Keefer said the School Board's aim is to get more students to take AP courses.

"Our local goal is really for students to have exposure and participate in the course work," she said. But the scores are good news to educators. "We're just excited that it looks that good," Keefer said of the results. "They really have improved."

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