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How to improve access to Advanced Placement in rural schools

The percentage of Arkansas high school graduates who have taken an AP exam is nearly 50 percent. (Gettyimages.com: baona).
The percentage of Arkansas high school graduates who have taken an AP exam is nearly 50 percent. (Gettyimages.com: baona).

Requiring high schools to offer at least one AP course would help increase rural student access to rigorous pre-college work, according to a recent report.

Although the AP participation rate in rural communities has steadily increased over the past 15 years, it still lags behind participation in suburban and urban districts, according to the report, “Advanced Placement Access and Success: How Do Rural Schools Stack Up?” from the Education Commission of the States and the College Board.

State policies make a difference, the report states. It points to three states— Arkansas, Indiana and South Carolina—that mandate public schools offer at least one AP course.

The percentage of Arkansas high school graduates who have taken an AP exam is nearly 50 percent, says Kimberly Friedman, a spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Education. And the state’s students saved over $11 million in college tuition costs in 2015 alone because of the AP program, according to the College Board.

Here are three steps to AP success, according to the report:

1. States can fund programs to increase AP access. Some states provide support for developing and delivering virtual AP courses. And the states offering such courses should ensure students have the required technology access—an infrastructure issue that particularly challenges rural areas.

2. Improve teacher training and PD so rural schools can develop local AP teacher leaders. The College Board runs a 30-hour training course to prep teachers to deliver the courses. Arkansas offers AP Summer Institutes for training teachers statewide, which is contracted through the College Board.

3. Improve accountability incentives. In Arkansas, the state pays for students to take the end-of-course AP exam (which costs more than $100 per student) and provides each school with $50 in incentive funds for each test score of 3 or higher. Schools must use the funds to support their AP programs, such as for teacher training.


Angela Pascopella is managing editor.