Montgomery County Public Schools students scored better overall on college-level Advanced Placement exams last year, but Hispanic pupils continued to fall behind.
Even as Hispanic students took more AP exams, and passed more of them than in previous years, the percentage of those who passed fell to 55 percent, down one point from 2008 and 11 points from 2005.
Overall, Montgomery students turned the corner on several years of declines, earning a passing score of at least three out of five on 72 percent of exams taken, compared with 71 percent last year, but down from 77 percent in 2005. Statewide, 61 percent of tests earned a passing score -- slightly better than the 57 percent nationally.
Superintendent Jerry Weast, who has become recognized nationwide for promoting AP courses and exams as a predictor of success at college, minimized the declines among Hispanic students.
"I'm not as concerned about the threes as most would be," Weast said, referring to the score required to earn course credit at many colleges and universities.
Instead, he pointed to a chart showing that the 11 percent college graduation rate for Hispanic students who do not take an AP exam is one-quarter the 44 percent graduation rate for those who take the class even if they do not pass the exam. For Hispanic students who do pass an AP exam, the college graduation rate is slightly higher, at 52 percent.
Montgomery County students lead Maryland and are among the top in the nation on annual AP participation and results. But as their numbers grow, so does the room for improvement.
2009 Exams taken (of 28,575) Exams passed (of 20,648) Percent of district students Black 10% 7% 23% Hispanic 10% 7% 23% White 53% 57% 38% Asian 27% 29% 16% 2005 Exams taken (of 20,164) Exams passed (of 15,521) Percent of district students Black 7% 5% 23% Hispanic 7% 6% 19% White 59% 62% 43% Asian 26% 26% 14%
"I'm concerned that if we keep students out [of AP classes], we'll fulfill the [low] expectations set for them," Weast said.
He used Tuesday's results to urge county officials and citizens to support a robust budget for the school system even as enormous cuts loom for the county and the state.
The school system's AP results are recognized nationally for the relative success among black and Hispanic students, but the progress remains mired in less-than-stellar numbers overall.
Only seven of the county's 25 high schools saw passing rates for black students higher than 50 percent. Among Hispanic students, 16 high schools saw passing rates greater than 50 percent. Wheaton High saw the lowest rates, with 26 percent for black students and 31 for Hispanic students, compared with about 41 percent for white and Asian students.
Those numbers concern only the students who take an AP exam. Of nearly 29,000 tests overall, 10 percent were taken by blacks and 10 percent by Hispanic students. Each group makes up about 23 percent of the district's 142,000-student population.