"Even if you take the class and don't pass the exam, it prepares you for college classes," Dowell said.
The challenge that Advanced Placement courses provide and the opportunity to earn college credit by taking the exams are reasons Washington County educators are encouraging more high school students to take the courses and exams, said Boyd Michael, executive director of secondary education.
When deciding whether to admit a student to a college, admissions officials take into account how rigorous a course load students take. Taking AP courses can help, said Bob Brown, coordinator of testing and accountability.
Admission officials want to know whether high school seniors challenge themselves or slack off in their senior year, said Boonsboro High senior Becky Jefferies, 17, of the Hagerstown area.
Jefferies is taking AP courses mainly to raise her grade point average to make her transcript more attractive to college admissions officials, she said. Advanced Placement courses receive more weight, so students possibly could earn a grade point average above 4.0.
Most colleges give credit to students who score a 3 or higher - on a scale of 1 to 5 - though some of the more prestigious schools require a score of 4 or 5 for college credit, Michael said.
The School Board set a goal of increasing the percentage of seniors who score a 3 or higher on at least one AP exam from 9.6 percent to 15 percent by the end of last school year.
The school system didn't reach that goal, but did see improvement with 10.6 percent scoring a 3 or better, Michael said.
The School Board wants to have 30 percent of graduating seniors score a 3 or higher on at least one Advanced Placement exam by 2008, he said.
To back that up, the board has invested in training more teachers to instruct AP courses, Michael said. Not all AP course teachers received such training.
For this school year, approximately 40 teachers received AP training, compared with four or five teachers a year in the past, Michael said. More teachers will be trained next summer, and teachers receive ongoing training during the school year.
With more Advanced Placement-trained teachers, school officials expect to see the average AP exam score improve in the coming years, Michael said.
That score dipped this past school year to 2.58 after being 2.73 during the 2001-02 school year, he said.
One reason the average score dropped was more students were taking AP exams last school year, Michael said.
Last year, 352 students took 567 AP exams, compared with 261 students taking 416 AP exams during the 2001-02 school year, Brown said.
Boonsboro senior Kelly-Jo Kibler took Advanced Placement government and politics as a junior and this year plans to take four AP courses. She has talked to officials at Mount St. Mary's College to know that her AP exam score for last year's course will earn her college credit, said Kibler, 17, of the Hagerstown area.
By scoring at least 3 on her AP exams this spring, Kibler said, she can earn more college credit.
Earning that college credit in high school can save students tuition because it means they can take fewer courses in college, Michael said.
For Kibler, earning the college credit early means she will have a chance to take more college-level courses at Mount St. Mary's so she can pursue a double major or a double minor.
Boonsboro High School has done particularly well with getting students to take Advanced Placement courses and exams, Michael said.
Principal Richard Akers said the school has a 90 percent to 100 percent passing rate for its science exams.
The AP chemistry and physics courses are so successful that teachers from other school systems ask how chemistry teacher Sam Lucas and physics teacher Ralph Von Philp do it, Akers said.
"If you offer AP and nobody takes it or passes the test, then it's not attractive to students. If it's a successful program, students are aware of it," Akers said.