On these pages, we examine Advanced Placement Program (AP) participation and performance results for U.S. public school students in the 2016 graduating class, using data from multiple years to present the class’s entire experience with AP throughout high school. We also highlight some of the AP Program’s success stories from 2016.
Increased Participation and Success
The data reveal a significant rise in the number of U.S. public school students participating and succeeding in AP. In fact, more students are participating and succeeding in AP right now than at any time in the AP Program’s 60-year history—meaning that today, more students than ever before have the opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school.
The Value of AP
The vast majority of U.S. colleges and universities offer credit, placement, or both for qualifying AP Exam scores—a money-saving opportunity for students that’s especially important in a time of rising college costs.
And more colleges, public and private, are offering generous credit policies for AP Exam scores. Twenty-two states, encompassing more than 60% of the U.S. population, currently apply state- or system-wide AP credit policies, which let students and families know exactly how any of that state’s public colleges and universities will recognize AP Exam scores. In 2016, new AP credit policies were adopted in five states: California, Colorado, Kansas, New York, and Oklahoma.
College admissions officers and scholarship committees value AP, as do education leaders who want to ensure that students who enroll in college will graduate. Studies show that AP students are not only more likely to enroll in four-year colleges but also more likely to graduate college on time in four years than similar non-AP students.
Expanded Access and Continued Quality
Even as more students are taking part in the AP Program, performance on AP Exams has not declined. According to an independent researcher, this surge in participation with the continuation of the program’s quality is “the rarest kind of success in public education.” The researcher went on to write that AP might be “the single happiest education story of the century.”Jump to footnote 
Ensuring Funding for Low-Income Students
Over the past two decades, low-income students have significantly increased their share of the numbers of both overall AP Exam takers and AP Exam takers earning a 3 or higher on an AP Exam—increases due in large part to the federal AP Test Fee Program (APTFP), which helped to fund AP Exams for low-income students. During 17 years of this dedicated federal funding, the number of low-income students who took AP Exams increased tenfold, from more than 45,000 in the 1999 AP Exam administration (the year after the APTFP began) to over 450,000 in the 2016 administration.
Beginning in 2017, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will eliminate the APTFP and consolidate AP funding with 40 other educational programs. States and districts can still choose to use funds available for AP activities under ESSA Title IV and Title I to cover AP Exam fees for low-income students.
Reaching All Students with AP Computer Science Principles
While AP access has expanded significantly, data show that many students across a range of income levels who would likely do well on specific AP Exams are not taking those exams. For example, of the rural students in the class of 2016 whose scores on the PSAT/NMSQT showed they would likely do well on an AP Exam in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subject, more than half did not take a STEM AP Exam.
To help improve this situation, AP launched its newest course, AP Computer Science Principles (AP CSP), in fall 2016. With classes in more than 2,500 schools, it is the largest course launch in the 60-year history of the AP Program. AP CSP was designed specifically to appeal to students traditionally underrepresented in the computer science field. And to make this newest AP course more widely available, teachers from a broad variety of disciplines are being trained to teach it.
A Note on Race/Ethnicity Data
The College Board’s collection and reporting of race and ethnicity was updated in 2016 to align with U.S. Department of Education guidelines for the collection and reporting of race and ethnicity data. For more information, see 2015-16 Changes to the Collection and Reporting of Student Race and Ethnicity Data.
Jump to footnote  referrer. “Criticism misses this century’s biggest education success story,” by Nat Malkus, aei.org, March 10, 2016