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ArlingtonVa. students see success on AP exams

Va. students see success on AP exams

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It wasn’t Virginia’s best showing, but public-school students in the commonwealth ranked 10th in the nation in terms of achievement on Advanced Placement (AP) tests last year.

A total of 28.6 percent of graduating Virginia seniors took at least one AP test and  scored at least a “3” or higher. Though down slightly from the rate of 28.8 percent in 2019, it was higher than the national rate of 24.4 percent.

Figures were reported Feb. 24 by the Virginia Department of Education. Department spokesman Charles Pyle told the Sun Gazette that figures are available only statewide, not on a school-district basis.

Virginia’s showing has been better in years gone by; in 2008, for instance, the Old Dominion ranked third nationally.


There is no “passing” grade on AP exams, which are graded on a 1-to-5 scale after students have completed coursework in the relevant subject matter. But scores of 3, 4 and 5 usually permit students to receive college credit for the material, depending on the institution of higher education.

Virginia students earned qualifying scores on 98,556 AP examinations in 2020. According to the College Board, this represents an estimated 295,698 college credits, which translated to a potential cost savings of $136.6 million based on typical college tuition rates.

Nationally, Connecticut led the rankings, with 34.5 percent of its students taking at least one AP exam with a score of 3 or higher. Florida (34.2 percent) and Massachusetts (34.0) were close behind, followed by New York, Maryland, New Jersey, Colorado and Illinois.

Virginia officials did not break down data by gender, but did release it by racial/ethnic composition. A total of 52 percent of Asian students, 28 percent of white students, 24 percent of Hispanic students and 9 percent of black students met the benchmark of at least one AP test passed with a score of 3 or higher.

The AP program is administered by the College Board. While students normally take the tests in a classroom setting, the onset of the pandemic last spring caused testing to be moved online. A total of 4.2 million exams were taken.

For 2020, the exams will be offered either online or, where school systems allow, in person.

The 10 most popular AP courses among Virginia’s 2020 graduating seniors were – in descending order – English Language and Composition (also the most taken nationally); U.S. History; U.S. Government and Politics; World History: Modern; Psychology; English Literature and Composition; Calculus AB; Biology; Environmental Science; and Human Geography.

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