Maryland again ranked first in the nation in the percentages of high school seniors taking and passing Advanced Placement exams, according to a report released Wednesday by the College Board.
Maryland surpassed longtime leader New York last year and has improved its numbers since then, with 24.8 percent of high school seniors earning a score of 3 or higher on one AP test compared to 23.4 percent the previous year.
Maryland also became the first state in which more than 40 percent of seniors took at least one AP exam.
Though low-income and African-American students remain underrepresented among the test takers, state leaders trumpeted the results as payoff in their quest to push students into more challenging classes.
"What's important is that we dont just have a lot of students taking the test, but we're teaching the material with real fidelity to the national standards and having students score 3, 4 and 5 on the tests," said state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. "That's what distinguishes Maryland."
New York and Virginia finished second and third in the rankings. Nationally, 15.9 percent of seniors scored 3 or higher on at least one AP test, and 26.5 percent took at least one test.
Advanced placement classes are considered the equivalent of college coursework at the high-school level. At the end of each course, most students take a national exam that is graded on a five-point scale. Scores of 3 or higher allow students to place out of entry-level courses at most colleges. The results help measure the rigor of academic programs offered in various high schools and state systems.
Maryland has done an unusually good job of preparing students with rigorous course work in the lower grades, said Trevor Packer, vice president of the AP program for College Board. "That's one reason why they've been able to move steadily up the rankings," he said.
Measures of AP success are important, because American students need to take harder courses to compete in the global job market, said Jack Jennings of the Washington-based Center on Education Policy.
"Kids throughout the world are taking more challenging courses," he said. "A student educated in Baltimore is not just competing with New York but with kids from China. The world is not standing still."
Jennings added that, "in general, Maryland has a lot to be proud of."