More high school seniors are taking Advanced Placement courses in Minnesota and scoring higher on the tests, but the state's rankings are still below national averages.
According to new data from the College Board, more than 15,000 Minnesota high school seniors took an AP course last year, and nearly 10,000 of them scored at least a three on an AP test. A score of three to five usually allows students to gain college credit for that class.
Students have other options to take advanced coursework in Minnesota schools, including throughout the International Baccalaureate program. Tuesday's report was confined to the AP program.
In all, 26 percent of all of last year's seniors had taken at least one AP course during high school -- which is about 2 percentage points below the national average.
State officials applaud the gains, but note areas where improvement is needed.
"The good news is many Minnesota seniors are tackling challenging course content and succeeding," said Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius in a statement. "Now we must continue to build on our good work, by increasing access for even more students to take challenging course content."
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Cassellius said she wants to work with schools to get more students into upper-level courses, whether AP or International Baccalaureate.
Schools should, she said, consider dropping prerequisites for getting into those classes, like having a certain grade point average.
"Dropping entrance criteria is one way we can increase access, but we also want to make sure we balance that with a tremendous amount of support for students who maybe haven't had those types of challenges before," she said. "But if they want to work hard, let's let them work hard."
Cassellius said she understands why schools are hesitant to drop those criteria -- they're often designed to allow in students who have previously been through rigorous courses and will be more likely to succeed. However, Cassellius added, there are programs schools should consider that are designed to get students tutoring and other services if they're new to advanced classes.
More students of color are taking AP courses now than a decade ago, and they're scoring higher on the tests. But four of every five seniors who took a course last year were white, and just 55 American-Indian seniors in Minnesota took an AP course last year.
The state also notes there are large segments of rural Minnesota where less than 1 percent of graduating classes took AP courses during high school.