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New York State moves up notch to seventh in number of AP tests passed

Malverne in Nassau County and Commack in Suffolk

Malverne in Nassau County and Commack in Suffolk were among 373 school districts in the U.S. and Canada recently named to an AP "honor roll" for increasing enrollments in advanced courses while maintaining achievement. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

New York State has moved up a notch in the national rankings for student achievement on college-level Advanced Placement exams, test sponsors announced Tuesday. 

Performance by high school seniors in the Class of 2018 propelled New York into seventh place among states, up from eighth in 2017. New York, nonetheless, ranked behind several major competitors, including California and New Jersey, which both showed strong growth. 

Rankings were released by the Manhattan-based College Board.  

In New York, 28.7 percent of public school graduates participated in AP testing and passed with scores of 3 or higher on a scale of 1 to 5. Massachusetts led the nation for the third year in a row, with 32.9 percent of seniors participating and passing exams. 

"The standards and the level of study are the best prep kids can get for college success," said James Hunderfund, superintendent of Malverne schools.

Malverne in Nassau County and Commack in Suffolk were among 373 school districts in the United States and Canada recently named to an AP "honor roll" for increasing enrollments in advanced courses while maintaining achievement.

New York, which held the top place among states in the early 2000s, experienced a gradual decline, then bounced back and forth between seventh and eighth place between 2016 and 2018.

Participation in AP studies also continues its upswing across the country. 

Over the past 10 years, the number of U.S. public high school graduates who've taken an AP exam rose 65 percent, while the number who scored 3 or better increased 63 percent, College Board officials said.  

More than 1.24 million students in the Class of 2018 took 4.22 million AP exams nationwide. 

On Long Island, where college-level classes set the tone in many high schools, the program's expansion has produced glaring disparities between individual schools and also complaints from some parents that students are feeling too much pressure. 

Local inequalities were underlined recently when administrators in the Wyandanch district, which is Suffolk's poorest, acknowledged they did not offer a single AP course. Many of the region's highest-achieving districts offer dozens of such courses. 

"I think it's great that New York has moved up," said Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents the Island on the state's policymaking Board of Regents. "The problem, I fear, is that, No. 1, not every student has availability to AP, and second, that students have to pay fees."

The cost is $94 per test.

Parents also report a rise in students' test anxieties. Several national publications rate high schools on the basis of AP participation and scores, and districts feel the heat if rankings slide. 

Jeanette Deutermann of Bellmore, lead organizer of regional test boycotts in lower grades, said she recently drew 166 comments on her website — many of which complained of testing costs — when she raised the issue of AP testing.

"I talked to one mother who's paying $700, because she has two students in high school," Deutermann said. "Seven hundred dollars! How many parents have seven hundred dollars lying around?" 

Critics also complained that the push for more AP courses is crowding out other worthwhile electives, while leaving teens who seek advanced studies with little choice except to pay a fee and spend two or three hours taking a College Board test.

It's all about ratings, critics added. 

"People rely on these rankings, but the rankings don't tell the whole story," said Diane Venezia Livingston, a parent critical of what she calls over-testing.  

Test supporters noted, on the other hand, that students from low-income families often arrange to have fees waived. Many states, including New York, are trying to expand programs designed to subsidize fees.

College Board officials themselves insisted Tuesday that they would like to address parents' concerns over testing "frenzy."

David Coleman, CEO of the nonprofit testing organization, referred during a teleconference with reporters to his agency's plans during the coming year to require test registrations in November, when students are in the early months of taking AP courses, rather than in the spring as is traditional.

About 9,000 high schools nationwide are expected to be affected by the timing change, College Board officials said. Many schools already have adopted fall payment schedules on their own.  

Counterintuitive as this might seem, Coleman contended the timing change is likely to reduce the number of AP courses taken and fees paid, by forcing students to consider early in the year how many such courses they can actually manage. 

"We're trying to stop the arms race here," Coleman said.

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