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When masses more students began taking the SAT in the 1980s and 1990s, average scores dropped so much that the SAT makers had to recalibrate the scoring system in 1995. To make sure the national average still approached 500 in each verbal and math section, each student got a bump of about 50 points (a combined bump of 100 points).

A similar expansion of test takers is happening with the Advanced Placement (AP) in exam. I was curious to see if a larger, more diverse population is leading to a dramatic lowering of AP scores. The short answer is yes, it is. But it’s not as dramatic as I would have expected from the SAT experience.

I looked at the State of Maryland, which has the highest AP participation in the country. More than 47 percent of high school graduates in Maryland take at least one AP exam. The College Board released this report on the state on February 11, 2014 as a supplement to its annual report.

Here’s a graphic from the Maryland College Board report.

Source: College Board

Back in 2003, roughly 13,000 high school grads took an AP exam and 69 percent of them got at least a 3. (I’ll use a 3 as a proxy for a passing score although many colleges require 4’s and 5’s for the test to count for college credit). In 2013, over 27,000 high school grads took an AP exam and only 63 percent of them got at least a 3. It’s quite remarkable that the rate of attaining at 3 or higher went down by only 6 percentage points even though participation more than doubled. I’d be curious to see how the rate of attaining a 5 changed, but I don’t immediately see that data.

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Jill Barshay writes the weekly “Proof Points” column about education research and data, covering a range of topics from early childhood to higher education. She taught algebra to ninth-graders for...

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