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Even as more students take AP, AP classes remain challenging, college-level academic environments. In “AP at Scale: Public School Students in Advanced Placement, 1990–2013,” American Enterprise Institute researcher Dr. Nat Malkus shows that while AP participation increased significantly between 2000 and 2009, there was no corresponding drop in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores of AP students. As the AP Program expanded, it maintained a high level of quality. Malkus wrote, “Expanding at scale without sacrificing rigor is the rarest kind of success in public education, and AP is showing just that,” He went on to call AP perhaps the “single happiest education story of the century.”

AP Exam Takers and Mean Score, by Annual Exam Administration

A chart showing AP exam takers and mean score, by annual exam administration. The number of exam takes grew from under 1.5 million in 2006 to over 2.5 million in 2016, where as the mean score oscillated from 2.90 in 2006 to 2.87 in 2016.

This chart shows AP Exam takers from both public and private schools by exam administration, not by graduating class.

There are many ways to identify students who are ready for AP. One is the free, web-based AP Potential tool, which allows schools to identify students who are likely to score a 3 or higher on a given AP Exam based on their performance on the PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 8/9, PSAT 10, or SAT. Student score reports for the PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 8/9, PSAT 10, and SAT also inform students directly about the AP courses in which they’re likely to succeed. (Those score reports also note which AP courses are offered at the student’s school.)

Using AP Potential is just one way that states, districts, and schools are expanding AP participation and performance.

AP Achievement in Florida

Five students at Southwest Miami High School received a perfect score—every point possible—on an AP Exam in 2016, making it one of just three schools in the nation with five or more students who garnered this rare achievement.

In addition, the percentage of all of Southwest’s AP students who earned a 3 or higher on an AP Exam increased 9 points from 2015 to 2016. Principal Carlos Diaz attributes the AP school’s AP success to its AP teachers. “The teachers try to take something that might be incomprehensible to the students and connect it to their lives and their world,” he said. “They are relentless about making sure the students improve, and the students love them for it.”