University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Reflections on AP

In The View from the OEP on April 27, 2016 at 1:39 pm


As thousands of high school students throughout Arkansas prepare for Advanced Placement (AP)  Exams next week, we thought it would be a good time to take a closer look at AP in Arkansas.  Below is a short summary of today’s policy brief which explores the topic of AP in Arkansas in more depth. You can find district-level AP data here, and we recommend district personnel check out the new Commissioner’s memo regarding PSAT administration here, and sign up for free administration next fall.

Since 2003, Arkansas has boasted one of the most aggressive AP programs in the nation.

‘4 Core’

All high schools are required to offer at least one AP course in each of the ‘4 Core’ areas (math, English, science and social studies) each year. This mandate, established through Act 102, has greatly expand access to AP courses: in 2015, 87% of the students in Arkansas attend districts that enroll students in at least these ‘4 Core’ AP classes.

Fee free

In addition to expanding course access, the legislation pays AP Exams fees for ALL students. Without the state support, AP Exams would cost the student $92 each.  Low income students can get a reduced fee, but cost of the exams could be a barrier to participation. Participation of Arkansas’ minority and low-income students in AP Exams has increased by double digits since the fees were waived in 2005.

Increasing Success

In 2003, fewer than 5,000 public school students completed an AP Exam. Those students received a score of 3 or higher on 47% of their exams.  Eighty-three percent (83%) of AP Exam takers were white.

In 2015, nearly 26,000  public school students completed an AP Exam. Those students received a score of 3 or higher on 32% of their exams. Sixty-seven percent (67%) of AP Exam takers were white.

AP participation has increased over 400%!

Minority students are an increasing large share of the AP participants! 


Yes, passing rates have declined since 2003, but Arkansas has opened the AP door to a much more diverse population. Black and Hispanic student participation in AP Exams has increased 7 percentage points each, and low-income student participation has increased 23 points.

In addition, while the passing rates for these groups are lower than we would like, Arkansas’ minority and low-income students are performing similarly to their peers nationally.

Here at OEP, we would like to see our kids do even better, and we make several policy recommendations to support the continued success of AP in Arkansas.

  • Accountability: 30% of Arkansas school districts do not have students enrolled in the four AP core classes. Support should be provided to these districts to ensure that all Arkansas students are provided the “4 Core” requirement of offering one each of the four core classes in math, science, English, and social studies every year.
  • Innovation: Small schools who have consistently offered, and had students enrolled in the “4Core” at their schools appear to be offering classes in sets that vary by year to better meet the need of AP student cohorts within their schools. This and other innovations, such as co-oping with other small schools to provide brick and mortar or virtual classes, as well as the potential of online classes, would insure all students have better access, regardless of where they live in the state.
  • Pre-AP Pipeline to Success: While passing rates have improved, many students are not adequately prepared for success in AP courses. This could be helped by better defining the pre-AP pipeline, where students are developing needed skills before they sit in the AP classroom. While Arkansas does encourage pre-AP courses, better guidelines with accountability could ensure better student preparation across the state and, again, promote better student success equity.
  • Teacher Quality: Similarly, students may not be succeeding at higher rates because teachers are not adequately prepared or supported in the teaching of the AP courses. We must ensure teacher quality and recommend increased high quality training for new AP teachers and teachers in high need school districts. We also recommend the formation of an AP teacher support network within the state where novice teachers can receive support from a mentor AP teacher for longer periods of time.


For school leaders, board members, and/or assessment folks:

We were pleased to see the Commissioner’s memo explaining that ADE will fund the administration of the PSAT/NMSQT to all 10th graders next fall.  While participation is voluntary, here at OEP we highly recommend that Superintendents take advantage of the opportunity to administer the PSAT/NMSQT next year.  The PSAT/NMSQT provides information through AP Potential that helps schools identify students who show potential to be successful in AP coursework including student populations who may be underrepresented. An informational webinar to discuss the benefits is tomorrow at 2pm.  Sign up here by May 13th if you want your district to be included!




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