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Alabamians take more AP classes, test higher on SAT

MONTGOMERY – Alabama students are continuing to take more Advanced Placement classes and earn passing scores on the exam, thanks in part to $3.6 million in state funding over the past two years.

State Superintendent Joe Morton and Gov. Bob Riley announced the results of the Alabama Advanced Placement Initiative in downtown Montgomery Tuesday, noting participation in the state is growing at a faster rate than nationally.

“Alabama students can reach higher and achieve more than historically people thought they could,” Morton said. “They ran, but they ran toward it – not from it.”

The number of students taking AP tests increased by 24.3 percent from 2007 to 2008 compared to the national increase of 8.6 percent over the same period. Also, the number earning scores of three or higher on the test grew 7.8 percent compared to the national increase of 5.7 percent.

Five is the highest possible score on the test. Students need to score at least a three to pass, and some colleges offer course credit for students who score a three or higher.

State legislators approved $1 million for the initiative in the 2006-07 school year, which went to 134 schools in 56 school systems. That was increased to $2.6 million the following school year to serve 148 schools in 71 systems.

Last school year 8,837 students took AP exams, up from 7,110 in the 2007 testing period. Minority students made big gains in participation, with 87 Mexican students – an 89 percent increase; 27 Puerto Rican students – an increase of 80 percent and 1,375 black students for a 62.5 percent gain.

“What has happened with our AP courses in the state of Alabama truly is incredible,” Riley said. “This happened because the department of education came in and said we need to do something differently. They said ‘With just a little seed money, we can make it happen.’”

The funds were partly spent on 300 teacher scholarships, 5,200 scholarships to pay the AP exam fee and to provide 650 teachers with additional instructional materials.

It also went toward paying for 30,000 scholarships for the practice SAT college entrance exam, which all Alabama students now take in the 10th grade.

Graduating Alabama students who take the SAT are also doing better on the test than the national average.

Most of Alabama’s students take the ACT college entrance exam, with students hoping to get into more selective colleges opting to take the SAT. Just 2,361 – or six percent – of the state’s public high school graduates took the SAT last year.

State students scored 562 on reading compared to the 497 national average; 558 on math compared to 510 nationally; and 551 in writing compared to the national average of 488.