CLEARWATER — More Pinellas County high school students are taking Advanced Placement courses than in the past, and more are passing the end-of-year examinations that give them college credit for their work.
Numbers released this week show 45.2 percent of Pinellas students who took Advanced Placement exams in 2013 earned passing scores, saving money and time the students otherwise might spend taking comparable classes in college.
The passing rate is a 3.2 percent increase over 2012’s number, while the number of students taking the test also increased slightly. The percentage of students passing the exam increased in 20 of 30 subject areas, with some of the biggest gains in biology, European history, calculus and physics, said school district spokeswoman Melanie Marquez Parra.
A three-hour college course costs about $1,000 in Florida, said Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Michael Grego.
“It’s all due to College Board training, and it’s still going on up till the beginning of the school year,” Grego said. “That training has always been there, but for this year we were laser-focused on making sure teachers knew how to teach a college-level course and how their students would be assessed.”
The “significant, in-depth” training is led by the College Board, which administers the college-level courses; St. Petersburg College and the University of South Florida, Grego said. The hours of work have paid off, and earned the school district its second recognition on the “AP Honor Role,” Grego said. The Pinellas district is one of seven school districts in Florida to earn the distinction for increasing the percentage of students who pass the exam while also showing that the percentage of minority students taking the exam did not decrease by more than 5 percent.
“A lot of districts had an increase, but we increased the number of African-American and Hispanic test-takers, and that’s where a lot of districts drop off,” Grego said.
In Pasco County, the number of passing students increased by 10 percent since 2012, said Pasco School District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe.
Pinellas County’s passing rates still are lower than 2009’s scores, when 47 percent of all students taking the tests passed and earned college credit. Grego said scores might be lower because the school district has been increasing enrollment in AP classes, a trend throughout Florida. The state covers the cost of the tests, which are about $90 per student, and includes student involvement in AP classes and exams when calculating schools’ yearly letter grades.
Teachers benefit financially when their students pass AP exams. School districts must give $50 bonuses to teachers for each of their students who pass an AP test, and $500 to teachers in D or F schools where at least one student passes an exam. The state caps the bonuses at $2,000 per teacher.
Students can take multiple AP classes and exams, though the AP exam that determines whether a student earns college credit has no bearing on his or her grades for the course. Students also can choose not to take the test — but not in Pinellas.
The days of taking an AP class and skipping the test are over, the Pinellas schools superintendent said.
“You take the class, you’re taking the test — that’s our expectation,” Grego said. “It’s only two hours of your life, why not?”