Ohio has seen an increase in the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses and earning college credit while still in high school, according to Ohio Department of Education officials.
Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross, representatives of the Ohio Board of Regents and a national nonprofit agency which seeks to link students to college opportunities were at Pickerington High School North Sept. 26 to hail the Buckeye State's AP strides.
According to the ODE, the number of Ohio students who earned a passing grade or better on an AP exam during the 2012-13 school year grew by 9.2 percent, which outpaced the national increase of 6.1 percent.
Additionally, the department reported, Ohio's minority students showed marked increases in AP participation, with the number of African-American students passing an AP exam growing by 17.2 percent and Hispanic student passage of the exams rising by 19.9 percent.
Nationally, ODE officials said, African-American students increased their passage rates on AP exams by 11.1 percent; the passage rates for Hispanic students grew by 13.3 percent.
"Every child, every day needs to be able to learn at high levels," Ross said. "We have to really believe that's true.
"Every child can learn at high levels, immensely high levels."
Ross said students taking AP classes are better prepared to make the transition to life after college and, particularly, into college.
He also noted that those who complete AP classes and pass exams typically earn college credit while still in high school, which helps demonstrate to colleges and universities that they are qualified to enter institutions of higher learning, and often leads to scholarships or other types of financial aid.
"Ohio made a concerted effort to provide more opportunities to obtain college credit while in high school," Ross said. "We have smart kids in Ohio and we have them in all races and all cultures because we know they can all learn at high levels."
Ross said the ODE chose to announce its AP findings at Pickerington North because the school and the entire Pickerington Local School District have been successful in increasing AP participation across its diverse student body.
According to data provided by Pickerington North at the press conference, Pickerington's school district is offering 14 different AP courses this year. Last year, Ross said, the district saw 601 students take 1,179 AP exams.
North's data also stated that 368 North students took 778 AP exams in 2012-13 and performed better on college admissions tests, such as the ACT and SAT, than state and national averages.
Additionally, school officials reported 66 percent of its 2013 graduates went on to attend four-year colleges, 11 percent enrolled in two-year colleges, 1 percent have entered technical and trade schools and 1 percent joined the military.
"The credit belongs with our students and our faculty and the administration," said Pickerington Superintendent Rob Walker, who said taking AP courses in high school "results in much better success at the collegiate level."
Ross said his department has emphasized how AP courses can prepare students for careers and college after high school, but he credited educators and students at local levels for striving to offer and participate in the curriculum.
He also said schools statewide are offering more AP courses than in recent years, and the 66 percent passage rate among Ohio public school students who take AP exams -- compared to 57 percent nationally -- indicates students aren't only challenging themselves in the classroom, but have displayed learning growth.
"These are tremendous gains," Ross said.
Many, but not all, Ohio high schools offer Advanced Placement or college-level courses for students.
Advanced Placement exams are administered each year in May and represent the culmination of college-level study in a given discipline.
Last year, more than 3,000 U.S. colleges and universities accepted Advanced Pacement scores for credit, placement or consideration in the admissions process, with the vast majority of those colleges and universities offering credit in one or more subjects, based on successful AP exam scores, according to the ODE.
Since 2009, students in Ohio who take an Advanced Placement examination and score at least a 3 are guaranteed college credit at an Ohio public college or university, the ODE reported.
At the press conference, Pickerington North seniors Mica Caine and Chris Walls both said their AP workloads have increased their learning, instilled confidence and improved their time management skills.
Caine, the Pickerington North senior class president, is expected to have completed a total of eight AP courses by the time she graduates.
"I wanted to challenge myself, be surrounded by motivated students and get college credit," Caine said. "I'm now pursuing accounting as a major and a minor in statistics since taking AP classes."
Walls will have completed four AP courses by graduation. He said AP classwork has taught him new ways of learning, as opposed to relying on memorization.
"I feel like it made me think more analytically, but not just that," he said. "I think it forced me to do better in time management.
"My first AP class showed me you need to be reading your notes to be prepared for your final, because when it comes around you can't cram it all in.
"(AP students) are more prepared and know more of what to expect in going forward in college and the workforce."