More Utah students are taking the AP test — but, this year, a smaller percentage passed

(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.

More Utah students took an Advanced Placement exam this year than last — but, overall, the percentage of those who passed and earned college credit is down slightly.

Roughly two out of three test-takers earned a passing score in 2019, for an overall rate of 67.4%. In 2018, 68.6% of Utah students passed, getting a score of three or higher on the five-point AP scale.

That small dip is not completely unexpected with the growing participation rate in public schools, but it is the first time in recent years that the state has seen a decline.

Regardless, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson, said: “It’s great to see more of our students challenge themselves with AP courses and exams.” And the state still remains above the national pass rate at 57.9%.

This year, more than 42,000 exams were taken by 28,325 Utah students, according to results released Tuesday by the College Board, which administers the tests. That’s up 5% over 2018, when 26,912 signed up.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The largest driver of that increase in participation was minority students — particularly Latino high schoolers.

More than 3,300 Latino students took at least one AP test in 2019. That’s nearly double the number from just four years ago, when only 1,775 did. Overall, it’s an 89% increase, the biggest hike of any minority group in the state in that time.

Black and Pacific Islander students took fewer tests this year than last, though their pass rates remained fairly similar. Every other minority or ethnic group saw modest bumps.

When kids score a three, four or five on the exam, they can earn college credit for subjects like English, math and science. While Utah’s pass rate dropped a bit this year, it’s still higher than 2017 at 67% and 2016 at 66%. In 2017, the Utah Board of Education said it was eventually expecting to see a natural decline as more students signed up.

“You would expect to see a drop in scores,” noted spokesman Mark Peterson at the time.

More students taking the tests, though, is considered a good thing, especially as students from all backgrounds and those who have historically been left out of the rigorous AP classes complete them. The participation rate has increased steadily over the years.

A large area of growth, too, has been the number of students taking foreign language AP tests. This year, 521 students took the AP Chinese exam, up 169% from last year. More than 300 kids signed up for the AP French exam, up 122%. And 1,575 students finished the AP Spanish exam, up 21%.

There was also a 48% increase in the number of kids who completed the AP computer science test. Last year, 247 students took that exam. This year, 366 did.

Meanwhile, the three most popular exams in Utah remained the same: English language and composition, human geography and United States history.

And the school district with the most test-takers and the highest scores was still Davis School District in northern Utah, where 7,721 exams were completed. Granite District fell in second place at 4,863. In some of the rural districts, only one or two kids signed up.