INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana is pumping millions of dollars into Advanced Placement tests for high school students despite a drop in the percentage of students who pass the exams.
More than a third of Indiana graduates took AP exams in 2012, up from about 18 percent in 2007. But only about 45 percent passed — well below the national average of 60 percent passing and a sharp drop from 2002, when 55 percent passed.
"More kids are going up to bat, but more kids are swinging and missing," Derek Redelman, vice president for education and workforce development policy at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, told the Indianapolis Business Journal. "Ultimately, what matters most is how we can get them to hit the ball."
Advanced Placement courses allow students to earn college credit by passing a year-end exam. Indiana includes AP scores in how it rates its high schools, though that system could change as part of a review of the state's embattled A-F school grading system.
Indiana will spend $2.8 million this year to cover the $81 fee the College Board charges for each exam. That amount will rise to $3.3 million in 2014.
The money will pay for every exam in math and science and for tests in any of the 34 subjects taken by students on the free or reduced lunch program.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said the increased funding is designed to boost participation in the AP program.
But Janet Boyle of the University of Indianapolis' Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning said the additional funding might not boost scores.
Boyle said the increase in the number of AP offerings has created more class space to be filled. That's often meant that students who aren't academically qualified for college-level classes are placed in AP courses.
Those students are still required to take the AP test at the end of the year even if they don't expect to score a passing grade of 3 or above.
"There are many teachers who say they can look at their classrooms and tell you right away who is going to get a 1 or 2," Boyle said.
Boyle said superintendents and school boards need to do more to prepare teachers and students for the difficulty of AP testing.
"Districts vary in how much (AP) support they give," Boyle said "But kids who have the chance to take advantage of test prep sessions or extra tutoring hours are going to do better."
Indiana Department of Education spokesman Daniel Altman said AP tests — if done properly — give all students the opportunity to access a rigorous education.
Speedway High School Principal Tim McRoberts says AP classes have a great value even if students fail the exam.
"There's benefit just in that it's a more rigorous environment," McRoberts said. "It's about as close to a college-type setting that we can put kids in.
"Passing the exam, well, that's just icing on the cake."