Utah’s high school students bested their national peers in taking and passing Advanced Placement exams this year, earning college credit for subjects like English, mathematics and science.

Statewide, 26,544 public school students took a combined 40,755 AP tests in 2017, according to data released Tuesday by College Board, a 5.4 percent increase in the number of participating students compared to 2016.

The state also saw an AP pass rate of 67 percent, determined by students earning a score of three or higher on a five-point scale, up from 66 percent in 2016 and ahead of the national pass rate of 56 percent this year.

“We are very pleased that a broader and deeper base of Utah students are preparing themselves for successful college experiences and for careers through AP exams,” State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson said in a written statement. “Members of the Utah State Board of Education and I join together in congratulating these students and in thanking their teachers and parents.”

Most popular AP exams in Utah

English Language/Composition: 4,887 tests

Human Geography: 4,447 tests

United State History: 4,267 tests

English Literature/Composition: 3,515 tests

Calculus AB: 2,845 tests

Psychology: 2,725 tests

World History: 2,609 tests

Statistics: 2,191 tests

U.S. Government/Politics: 2,138 tests

Biology: 1,571 tests

Millcreek Junior High School, in Bountiful, had the highest AP pass rate in the state, with 95.83 percent of students successfully scoring a three or higher on their tests.

The school offers a single AP course, geography, which roughly one-in-three ninth graders enroll in, according to Principal Brock Jackman.

“It is something we emphasize,” Jackman said. “The more kids we can get into rigorous courses, the better.”

Among schools with multiple AP offerings, Davis High School in Kaysville had the highest passage rate, at 92.75 percent.

Kelly Oram, an AP art history and economics teacher at Davis High, credited students for the school’s success.

“We’ve got good students who want to take the classes to begin with,” Oram said. “They aren’t afraid of a little bit of extra work.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Davis High School AP Art History and AP Economics teacher Kelly Oram keeps his students engaged during a macroeconomics lesson on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. New data from AP show more students taking, and passing, the tests in Utah — with Davis High having one of the state’s highest AP passage rates.
(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Davis High School AP Art History and AP Economics teacher Kelly Oram keeps his students engaged during a macroeconomics lesson on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. New data from AP show more students taking, and passing, the tests in Utah — with Davis High having one of the state’s highest AP passage rates.

The ability to earn college credit through an exam is “wonderful,” Oram said. But he added that enrollment in an Advanced Placement course is where the greater benefit occurs, as students get a taste of higher education and are encouraged to push themselves academically.

“I think it‘s the experience, more than it is the actual college credit,” he said. “They tend to stretch themselves and take on a little bit more.”

Mark Peterson, spokesman for the office of the Utah Board of Education, said its encouraging that Utah’s success rate continues to improve despite more students taking more tests.

“You would expect to see a drop in scores,” Peterson said. “This is great news for us.”

(Courtesy Granite School District) Utah high school students taking Advanced Placement exams at Skyline High School, in 2013. Data released Tuesday showed the state's students performed better than their national peers, both in taking and passing AP tests in 2017.
(Courtesy Granite School District) Utah high school students taking Advanced Placement exams at Skyline High School, in 2013. Data released Tuesday showed the state's students performed better than their national peers, both in taking and passing AP tests in 2017.

In addition to the Advanced Placement program, College Board administers the SAT, and released Utah data on the college-readiness exam on Tuesday.

While less popular in the Beehive state than its rival, ACT, College Board data show that 1,277 students, from public and private schools, took the SAT in 2017, with average scores of 614 in math and 624 in English for an average combined score of 1,238.

The national average SAT score this year was 1,044.

Peterson said comparisons between the state’s SAT scores and the national average are complicated, because Utah students typically take the exam only if they plan to enroll at elite universities on the West and East coasts.

“These are high-performing students who have high post-secondary goals,” Peterson said. “Its not really fair to compare them to kids in California, where a lot of kids take the SAT.”