One of the most common ways for high school students to earn college credit — and, by extension, reduce the cost of college — is to pass an AP exam.
But fewer Kansas students are graduating with a passing grade on an Advanced Placement exam compared to their peers in other states.
About one out of every 10 Kansas high school graduates received a passing grade on an AP exam last year, according to a new report from The College Board, the nonprofit organization responsible for the exam. The report includes all graduates, whether they took an AP class or exam.
Kansas' rate is the third worst in the country — above only Louisiana and Mississippi. And the state continues to perform well below the national average, as it has in recent years.
High school students can receive college credit for subjects like biology and history if they pass the corresponding AP exam, though it’s up to individual universities to decide what scores, if any, they’ll accept for credit. High schools often offer AP courses — advanced-level classes designed to prepare students for the exam.
Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson said he isn't worried about the report.
He said the state's large number of small private colleges and community colleges often take dual-credit courses, where a student takes a course for both high school and college credit -- an attractive option. That may be drawing students away from AP exams, he said.
Watson said the number of Kansas high school students enrolled in dual-credit courses jumped from just less than 18,000 to nearly 27,000 from 2014 to 2016. The jump in enrollment for dual-credit courses, Watson said, is a positive sign that students are being prepared for college.
He also sees Kansas' incremental growth in AP exam success over the last decade as a positive.
“It not only doesn’t concern me, I’m excited,” Watson said of the latest data. “When you couple that with the really big numbers we saw in dual credit, we’re extremely happy.”
Kansas has lagged behind the national average for the last decade. But while the state saw some growth over that period, its recent numbers are no better than they were in 2014, and the gap between Kansas and the national average has widened.
The benefits of passing an AP exam can extend past college credits. According to the College Board, students who pass an AP exam are less likely to drop out after their first year in college. The College Board also says that students who fail an AP exam still tend to perform better in college.
And while the exam costs $94 — though some schools will cover at least part of that cost — that’s significantly less than what a college course for the same credits would typically cost.
The last decade saw significant growth for AP programs across the country. According to the College Board, there has been a nearly 70 percent increase in the number of students in the U.S. who passed at least one AP exam.
Stephan Bisaha is an education reporter for KMUW’s Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @SteveBisaha.