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More Utah students taking, passing Advanced Placement tests

More Utah students taking, passing Advanced Placement tests

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SALT LAKE CITY — More Utah public school students are taking — and passing — Advanced Placement exams, earning college credit and saving college tuition in the process.

And two Davis School District junior highs are among schools with the highest pass rates in the state, according to results released Tuesday by the Utah State Board of Education.

Statewide, 26,544 public school students took 40,755 Advanced Placement exams in 2017 — a 5 percent increase from the previous year.

About two-thirds of those students, 67 percent, earned scores good enough to receive college credit on the exams, a slight improvement from the previous year's 66 percent pass rate, according to College Board data.

Among them were students from two Davis junior high schools that had some of the highest pass rates in the states.

Forty-eight ninth-graders at Millcreek Junior High in Bountiful took the human geography AP test with a state-leading 95.83 percent pass rate.

Davis High School, which offers far more AP class options than the district's junior highs, had a 92.75 percent passing rate, and Bountiful High School's pass rate was just shy of 87 percent. Davis High was third statewide for its number of test takers, according to the new data.

In total, five of the Utah schools with the highest passing rates were in the Davis School District. The others were ninth-graders at Bountiful Junior High, where 39 students took AP tests and 79.49 percent passed, and Woods Cross High School, with a 79.25 percent passing rate.

Logan Toone, assistant superintendent for the Davis School District, attributes the students' success to well-trained and engaging teachers.

Photo: Aaron Thorup, Utah State Board of Education
Photo: Aaron Thorup, Utah State Board of Education

"They know their content so well, and they know how to teach so well. They can engage kids in high-level coursework. It's amazing to go into their classes and see the work that they're doing. It blows my mind," Toone said.

Students start preparing for the rigor of AP coursework and test at the start of junior high by taking honors or advanced classes, he said.

"We vertically aligned key principles of college readiness from grades seven through 12," Toone said. "When they get that advanced-level coursework like AP class, they're accustomed to it. They've seen it before. They've written challenging essays about literature topics. They've done the kinds of lab work they need to do to be successful in an AP science class."

For the past six years, Davis School District has hosted a national AP Summer Institute, providing training in some 20 AP courses.

"It allows our teachers to really take advantage of that training," Toone said. "Proximity is everything. It's really costly to send teachers out of state for training. But when we have one right here in our own backyard, we can take advantage of it efficiently."

Not only does rigorous coursework help students succeed in college, it can save a significant amount of college tuition. Between AP classes and concurrent enrollment classes, Davis School District graduates in 2016 completed 44,000 credit hours of college-level coursework.

Photo: Aaron Thorup, Utah State Board of Education
Photo: Aaron Thorup, Utah State Board of Education

"Really, it is a college experience, and they walk out the door really, truly ready for what they're going to hit in those universities," Toone said.

According to statewide results, students in all demographic groups — except American Indians — had greater participation and performance on AP exams. Notably, 10.8 percent more Pacific Islanders took AP classes and exams, and their pass rates increased by 50 percent, according to the data.

American Indian students had decreases in both participation, down 19.4 percent, and pass rate, which fell 11.5 percent.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson, in a prepared statement, said education officials are pleased that "a broader and deeper base of Utah students are preparing themselves for successful college experiences and for careers through AP exams."

“Members of the Utah State Board of Education and I join together in congratulating these students and in thanking their teachers and parents,” Dickson said.

AP exams are college-level tests administered by the College Board, makers of the SAT. Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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Marjorie Cortez

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