Colorado: AP participation, success up

More Colorado students are taking Advanced Placement classes and more are succeeding in them, according to a national report released Wednesday by the College Board.

One in five Colorado students – or 20.1 percent – in the class of 2009 scored a 3 or higher on at least one AP exam during high school, compared to 15.9 percent nationally, the report notes.

Five years ago, 15.1 percent of Colorado’s class of 2004 achieved a 3 or above on at least one AP exam in high school.

But as the number of students statewide taking AP classes has grown, the actual percentage of test-takers earning that 3 or higher – considered the passing rate on an AP end-of-course exam – has declined.

Consider that in 2004, 10,454 Colorado students took at least one AP exam and 6,746 achieved a 3, 4 or 5 – for a 65 percent success rate. In 2009, 15,499 students took at least one AP exam and 9,476 passed it, or 61 percent. 

AP classes are college-level courses that students take in high school under a program administered by the College Board, which also produces the SAT college-entrance exam. Students who earn a 3 or above on an AP exam can receive credit for that course at many colleges and universities.

Nationally, the number of students taking AP courses has surged, with more than one in four members of the U.S. class of 2009 – or 26.5 percent – taking at least one AP exam during high school. That compares to 32.9 percent for Colorado.

But, as in Colorado, as more students nationally take AP classes, the number of failing exam scores has grown.

In 2009, about 43 percent of the 2.3 million A.P. exams taken earned a failing grade of 1 or 2, compared with 39 percent of the one million exams taken by the class of 2001, according to The New York TimesSee story here.

“Are we getting more 1s and 2s? Absolutely,” Trevor Packer, vice president of the Advanced Placement program, told the Times. “But are we getting more 3s, 4s and 5s? Even more so.

“So the question is whether that increase in the percentage of low scores is a reasonable tradeoff for the even larger growth in high scores, and I don’t know an educator who wouldn’t think it’s a good tradeoff to take the risk and give more courses that we know have been good for the few.”

Colorado ranks 8th in the nation in the percentage of its high school seniors earning a 3 or above on AP exams, and 5th in the country in expanding that percentage over the past five years.

Districts such as Denver Public Schools have sought to increase enrollment in AP classes in recent years as a way of strengthening the high school curriculum and giving students a taste of college.

Denver school board members have set a goal of annually increasing student participation in AP classes by 3.5 percent, along with increasing those students earning a 3 or above on their AP exams by 3.5 percent yearly.

The district released data last week showing the number of all high school students taking AP classes has more than doubled since 2003-04, to nearly 4,500. The number of students passing AP exams has increased by 97 percent in that same period. Not all students who take AP classes sit for the exams.

As in the state and the nation, the percentage of DPS students failing their AP exams also has risen. In 2004-05, DPS administered 2,021 AP tests and 808 earned a 3 or higher, for a passing rate of 40 percent. In 2008-09, DPS gave 3,369 AP exams and 1,127 scored at least a 3, for a passing rate of 33 percent. 

DPS’ goals, statistics and plans to improve AP access and success are outlined in this report, pages 25 to 32.

Still, according to DPS and the College Board report, Hispanic and black students continue to be underrepresented among those taking and passing AP exams in Colorado.

In DPS, for example, 42 percent of students who took AP exams this past fall were white, 38 percent were Hispanic and 15 percent were black. DPS’ overall student enrollment is 25 percent white, 54 percent Hispanic and 16 percent black.

Statewide, 69 percent of Colorado’s class of 2009 was white and 72.6 of the state’s students taking AP exams was white.

Similarly, low-income students are underrepresented among Colorado’s AP students though the number is growing. In 2004, 6.6 percent of AP exam-takers were low-income and, five years later, the percentage is 10.6.

Other highlights of the College Board report for Colorado:

  • 32.9 percent of the state’s public high school class of 2009 took at least one AP exam during high school, compared to 30.5 percent of the class of 2008 and 23.3 percent of the class of 2004.
  • 20.1 percent of Colorado’s class of 2009 earned a score or 3 or above on at least one AP exam during high school, compared to 19 percent for the class of 2008 and 15.1 percent for the class of 2004.
  • 12.1 percent of the state’s students who took at least one AP exam during high school were Hispanic, compared to 11 percent for the class of 2008 and 8.4 percent for the class of 2004.
  • 9 percent of students who earned a 3 or higher on at least one AP exam in high school were Hispanic, compared to 8.1 percent of the class of 2008 and 7.2 percent for the class of 2004.
  • 10 percent of Colorado’s class of 2009 took at least one AP exam in science and 13.4 percent took at least one AP exam in math, compared to 8.8 percent and 9.7 percent respectively for the nation.
  • The most popular AP exams in Colorado were English language, English literatue, U.S. History, Calculus AB and U.S. Government and Politics.

Click here to read the College Board’s AP Report to the Nation and here to read the state report on Colorado. Click here to see the College Board’s press release on Colorado.

Also, click here to read about the debate among AP teachers over the expansion of AP classes and see a survey of those teachers here.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at or 303-478-4573.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”