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State ranks 46th nationally for Advance Placement testing

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia ranks 46th among all states for the number of students who took and passed an Advanced Placement Exam in high school.

A national report released Wednesday by the College Board shows that 9.5 percent of West Virginia students earned a grade of 3 or higher on an advanced placement course in 2012, substantially lower than the national average of 19.5 percent.

A perfect score is 5.

The number of West Virginia high school students taking the intensive classes has grown in the past decade -- from 1,806 students in 2002 to 3,722 today. The report boasts that "more graduates are succeeding on AP Exams today than took them in 2002." Last year, 1,631 students passed an AP exam.

"We're making progress toward our goals," said Dixie Billheimer, CEO of the West Virginia Center for Professional Development. "When you open up access the way we have and increase the number of students taking the test, it takes time to get them acclimated so they're successful at the same rate."

The report showed a hefty achievement gap between West Virginia's minority students and their white counterparts. In 2012, only 79 African American students enrolled in AP courses. Of those, 22 passed the exam.

In 2011, education groups across the state began an initiative to create policies and practices to close that gap, and to push for more AP participation in West Virginia. By 2014, they want a quarter of West Virginia's graduating class to participate in at least one AP course, with 15 percent of those students passing an AP exam.

Students use the advanced placement classes to earn college credit -- but they only earn that credit if they pass an exit exam at the end of the course. 

"We've had students leave high school with enough college credits to enter college as a sophomore or a junior," said Gerri Simmons, the curriculum assistant principal at George Washington High School. The school is often called Kanawha County's magnet school for Advanced Placement -- it offers 19 AP courses.

Across the state, access to advanced placement courses is sparser.

Since 2008, the state Department of Education has required all schools to offer at least four AP courses. Recently, the emphasis has been on professional development for teachers of AP classes, in an effort to steer more students to a passing grade on their AP exams.

In a statement, state Superintendent Jim Phares said "the small number of students who enrolled in these courses .<\!p>.<\!p>. shows we have a lot of work ahead of us to improve student achievement in West Virginia.

"We must do better to reach all West Virginia students," he said. "And the state Board of Education is committed to making reforms to see that happen." Contact writer Shay Maunz at or 304-348-4886.


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