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NC participation and scores on AP tests top pre-pandemic levels

East Mecklenburg High students take exams in the school library in February 2022.
Ann Doss Helms
East Mecklenburg High students take exams in the school library in February 2022.

A new report on 2023 Advanced Placement exam results shows North Carolina’s public school students are taking more tests and scoring higher than they did before the pandemic.

Advanced Placement courses offer high school students a chance to tackle college-level classes. If they score high enough on the exams, colleges and universities often award them credit.

When COVID-19 closed schools and disrupted testing in 2020, the number of North Carolina students taking AP exams fell, and the numbers continued dropping through 2022. But last year about 75,500 students in North Carolina public schools took almost 136,500 AP tests, topping the numbers for 2019.

AP exams are scored on a five-point scale, with a score of three or higher qualifying for credit at some schools. Last year 59.2% of North Carolina’s public school exams hit that mark, the highest level in the past five years.The national average was 60.2%.

North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

The Department of Public Instruction reports that increases in participation and proficiency for North Carolina’s Black and Hispanic students outpaced national averages for those groups.

“Not only are we broadening access to advanced level courses for students, are also supporting their success,” Sneha Shah-Coltrane, DPI’s director of advanced learning, said in a news release. “We are making sure students have access to AP courses and also the high-quality education and supports they need to be successful.”

AP classes are just one way the state encourages high school students to take higher-level courses in hopes of preparing them for higher education and potentially reducing the cost. Others include International Baccalaureate and Cambridge courses and tuition-free college courses offered in high school. The state offers teacher bonuses based on students’ success on exams and pays fees so students can take exams that lead to college credit. This year’s AP exams cost $98 each.

Read the state’s news release on 2023 AP results here. The College Board, which administers AP exams, has not yet posted national data for 2023.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.