Nashville public schools boosts the number of AP exams taken thanks to free-test program
Nashville public schools students took more college-level exams last year than ever before, a result that officials say stems from an effort that foots the bill for the tests.
In the 2017-18 school year, district-run school students took 6,636 Advanced Placement exams, about a quarter more than the previous year’s total of 4,811 exams. The increase happened in the same year the district began paying for students to take the tests to provide better access to poor students.
“Prior to last year, we didn’t ask students to take advanced academic tests because we couldn’t ask them to pay. Or they would opt out due to the cost,” said Laura-Lee Morin, Metro Nashville Public Schools advanced academics director.
“When we removed the cost barrier … we had some minor attrition from those classes at the beginning of the year, but the ones that stayed throughout the year participated and that resulted in a huge increase.”
The spike didn’t necessarily mean a rise in the number of college credits earned through the Advanced Placement exams, but the district also didn’t backslide.
And, even if the students didn’t earn credit, Morin said, it provides them with valuable experience taking college-level courses and a college-level exam.
To earn college credit at most colleges on an AP exam — which includes college-level subjects such as art history, statistics and Spanish — a student must score a three or higher out of five possible points.
“That (the flat numbers) was anticipated,” Morin said, “When you open access to all students and have that big of an increase, you are going to see scores drop initially until you build the capacity in the teachers and students.”
Nashville public schools’ increase also coincides with a spike in the number of exams taken statewide.
The Tennessee Department of Education, through its version of a federal law, has encouraged districts to focus closely on college and career readiness programs.
Advanced Placement exams fall into the broader category, and, in 2018, districts statewide administered 53,871 tests to 32,222 students, according to education department numbers.
Students eligible for college credit also increased from 16,242 last year to 17,049 this year, a new record high for the state.
More AP tests earn college credit
In Metro Nashville Public Schools, more Advanced Placement tests were taken by students in district-run schools than in any year prior thanks to an effort that makes exams free.
The number of tests that scored a three or above, which is enough to earn college credit, also increased.
- 2017-18: 2,654 that scored high enough to earn college credit, or 36 percent of all exams.
- 2016-17: 2,346 that scored high enough to earn college credit, or 46 percent of all exams.