More students in the Los Angeles Unified School District took and passed an Advanced Placement exam last year, reflecting a rise in success on the college-level tests in California and nationwide.
A record number of students took AP exams in 2012 — nearly one-third of high school graduates nationwide took at least one of the tests and nearly one in five had passing scores, according to a report released Wednesday by the College Board, the New York nonprofit that administers the exams.
More than 954,000 high schoolers took at least one AP exam last year, compared with about 471,400 students in 2002.
And with the largest and most diverse population of students taking the tests on record, average scores and the percentage passing both have increased nationwide.
In California, about 37% of high school graduates in the class of 2012 took at least one AP exam, up from about 29% in 2007 and 24% in 2002. Nearly a quarter of California graduates in 2012, or 24.7%, passed at least one exam — the eighth-highest percentage in the country.
The results show that teachers and students seem to have bucked the notion that more access to these rigorous classes causes lower test score averages, College Board President David Coleman said.
"We can simultaneously improve both equity and excellence in this country," he said.
Still, the report notes that more than 300,000 graduates in 2012 who were identified as having "AP potential" through scores on other tests did not take any AP exams.
And a wide gap remains in access to the high school classes among low-income and certain minority students and their white and Asian peers, the report said. In most subjects, African American, Latino, American Indian and Alaska Native students are far less likely to enroll in AP courses.
Latinos in California made up about 44% of high school graduates in 2012. But among all graduates who took at least one AP exam, 37% were Latino. That figure is up, however, from about 30% in 2007 and about 28% in 2002.
African American students in the state comprised about 7% of graduates in 2012. But of all graduates who took an exam, about 4% were black, compared with 3.6% in 2007 and 1.6% in 2002.
In L.A. Unified, 22,932 students took at least one AP test last year — an increase of more than 8% over the previous year. Of the 41,006 tests taken, 16,309 had passing scores, an 11.2% increase from the previous year.
To succeed on an AP exam, students need to score a 3 or higher on a 5-point scale. Many colleges and universities offer college credit for passing scores. AP courses are offered in a variety of subjects, including math, science, foreign language, English and history.
Some education experts and advocates say that the more difficult AP courses are a strong predictor of how well students will perform in college. But there has been a backlash from some colleges and universities that have refused to accept AP scores, and some high schools have stopped offering those classes.
Many students take multiple AP classes throughout high school and their grades in those courses typically are weighted more heavily than regular ones.
State Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said he was pleased with California's progress.
"These results reflect the high value California students and families place on being ready for college — and the increasing success our students and schools are having in achieving that goal," Torlakson said.
Although female students take the exams at higher rates, male students fared better, the College Board said.
Female students made up about 56% of students nationwide who took an exam, but their male classmates averaged a score of 2.95 on the 5-point scale while female students averaged 2.73.
In California, female students made up about 57% of students who took an exam. They too averaged a lower score than their male classmates, who averaged a score of 3.03 while female students averaged 2.8.