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More low-income and black students in Mississippi are passing college-level Advanced Placement exams in high school although pass rates for students overall remain low and stagnant, according to a report released Wednesday.

The College Board’s 10th annual Report to the Nation examines trends in participation and performance on Advanced Placement (AP) exams across the country. Since 2003, the percentage of all graduating low-income students in Mississippi who received a passing score of a three, four, or five has grown from about 8 percent to more than 20 percent. (The report’s numbers encompass students who didn’t take the test.) At the same time, the percentage of the state’s graduating black students who passed an AP exam has grown slightly, from about 11 percent in 2003 to nearly 14 percent in 2013.

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Despite the growth in black and low-income pass rates, Mississippi ranked last in the overall percentage of graduating students who received a passing score in 2013. Fewer than 5 percent of Mississippi’s graduating class passed an exam, compared to the national average of 20 percent, and more than 29 percent in Maryland, the state with the highest pass rate. Mississippi’s percentage of students graduating with passing score on an AP test has grown by only 1.6 percentage points in the last decade, the least amount of growth in the country.

Mississippi also has significantly fewer 11th and 12th grade students — and fewer who are enrolled in AP — than some of the highest performing states. In 2013, more than 121,000 students were enrolled in 11th or 12th grade in Maryland’s public schools, and about 50 percent of graduating students took an AP course. By contrast, that same year, Mississippi had only about 60,000 students enrolled in 11th or 12th grade, and about 13 percent of graduating students took an AP course.

The data comes at a time of increased attention to college and career readiness in the state, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Within the next five years, an estimated 46,000 STEM-related jobs will become available in Mississippi, and most will require a two- or four-year college degree. The Advanced Placement program offers 12 college-level classes in science, math, and computer science. If high school students pass the course exam, they can often earn college credit.

In Mississippi, a dwindling number of high schools are offering AP courses. Only 150 schools participated in the AP program in 2013, compared to 189 schools in 2008. Statewide, few students are taking AP courses in a STEM field. In 2013, only about 2 percent of graduating students took an AP math or computer science exam, and about 3 percent took a science exam.

Black students in Mississippi are especially underrepresented in these courses. More than 220 white students took the AP Chemistry exam in 2013, and 53 students, or about 24 percent, passed. In contrast, only 89 black students took the exam, and only four students passed.

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Jackie Mader supervises all photo and multimedia use, covers early childhood education and writes the early ed newsletter. In her ten years at Hechinger, she has covered a range of topics including teacher...

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