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Florida excels in Advanced Placement courses once again

• Mike Thomas

APThe Class of 2013 set a record for Florida high school graduates. More than 41,000 scored a passing grade of 3 or better on an Advanced Placement exam.

This is the second year that Florida finished among the top five states in the percent of graduates who have successfully completed an AP course.

Ahead of Florida were Maryland, Connecticut, Virginia and Massachusetts.

Notice the company Florida is now keeping. They’ve come a long way since the 1990s when they ranked near the bottom nationally in almost every academic category.

Also consider that Florida has a 56 percent free/reduced lunch student population, an indicator of poverty. No state that is ranked above them comes within 15 percentage points of that. Their success hinges on elevating traditionally disadvantaged student populations.

And these students have made remarkable improvement. In 2003, only 1,403 low-income high school graduates passed an AP exam in Florida. That number has grown more than 800 percent to 12,774. They comprise more than a third of the graduates passing the exam and are why Florida trails only Connecticut when it comes to improving AP success since 2003.

This achievement was recognized in an extensive 2011 report by ProPublica that noted Florida “leads the nation in the percentage of high-school students enrolled in high-level classes—Advanced Placement and advanced math. That holds true across rich and poor districts.’’

Florida also has eliminated the AP achievement gap between white and Hispanic students.

Such results didn’t simply materialize by happenstance but have been part of a long-term strategy that began in 2000 under former Gov. Jeb Bush.

To encourage participation in AP courses, Florida pays AP exam fees, gives teachers bonuses for students who pass the tests, increases those bonuses substantially for teachers in low-performing schools, and includes AP participation and pass rates in school grades.

These changes revealed what we’ve always known. Florida and other states have long under-estimated the ability of low-income children to handle rigorous academic courses.

As good as Florida’s numbers may be, they are far from good enough. Too many students are not prepared for higher-level classes coming out of middle school.

This is why Florida has adopted higher math and English standards, which go into full effect next year. They set the academic bar at a level that students entering high school will be ready for greater challenges.

As part of these new standards, Florida will be returning to a more simplified school grading system that focuses on the basics of student achievement in core subject areas.

The result should be even more students ready for success in AP classes. And more high school graduates ready for success after graduation.





About the author

Mike Thomas @MikeThomasTweet

Mike Thomas serves in the communications department, writing editorials and speeches. Prior to joining the Foundation, Mike worked for more than 30 years as a journalist with Florida Today and the Orlando Sentinel. He has written investigative projects, magazine feature stories, humor pieces, editorials and local columns. He won several state and national awards, and was named a finalist in the American Society of New Editors’ Distinguished Writing Award for Commentary/Column Writing in 2010. As a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, he wrote extensively about education reform, becoming one of its chief advocates in the Florida media. Mike graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in political science and journalism. His wife is a teacher and he has two children in public schools. Contact Mike at