In a good place


HILO — The percentage of Hawaii students taking Advanced Placement courses increased faster than the national average, and students scored higher than last year while still trailing their national counterparts.

That’s according to the ninth annual AP Report to the Nation released Wednesday by the nonprofit College Board, an organization devoted to college opportunity and success.

The report shows Hawaii’s public school system has seen across-the-board gains in the number of students taking AP exams, total exams taken and scores that qualify students for college credit, in line with the national trend. Succeeding in AP is defined as achieving a score of 3 or higher on the five-point AP Exam scale, which is the score needed for credit, advanced placement or both at the majority of colleges and universities.

“Our commitment to provide more opportunities for students to take AP exams is clearly paying off,” Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said in a statement. “Schools and students are embracing the rigor of AP courses and successfully completing challenging coursework that will prepare graduates for college and careers.”

That was good news to Konawaena High School Principal Shawn Suzuki, who praised the state Department of Education for emphasizing the importance of AP coursework and seeking grants to make it happen. Konawaena High, with approximately 700 students, offers five to seven different AP courses each year.

“That’s a good testament to everything that’s going on with the program. We’re working with the state, and we’re very fortunate to be part of that,” Suzuki said. “We’re pleased with the improvements, and we’ll continue working hard to keep improving.”

Another Hawaii Island school taking advantage of the AP program is Kohala High School. As a rural school with only 253 students, Kohala High in the past wasn’t able to offer the full range of AP courses.

But that’s been changing over the past few years, with students more and more opting for online courses in addition to the two face-to-face courses the school offers each year, said Principal Janette Snelling. In addition, Kohala High is part of a state pilot program that’s been training teachers and implementing a pre-AP “springboard” curriculum for ninth- and 10th-graders.

“It’s opened up a lot more venues for our students,” Snelling said. “We’re hoping for some good results this year.”

Approximately 11.4 percent of Hawaii’s graduating class scored a 3 or higher on an AP exam, compared with 19.5 percent nationally. However, Hawaii is expanding access to AP faster than the national average, more than doubling the number of high school graduates taking AP exams in the last decade – an effort that drew national praise from College Board Senior Vice President Andrea Mainelli during a regional conference last year.

Some 2,905 Hawaii public school students graduated from high school having taken at least one AP class in 2012, compared to 1,239 students 10 years ago. Of those, 1,200 scored 3 or higher, compared to 682 in 2002.

The percentage of low-income graduates taking AP classes has almost doubled in 10 years. In 2002, 13.5 percent of low-income students took an AP class, compared to 26 percent last year. The percentage of low-income students scoring 3 or higher increased from 12.6 percent in 2002 to 20.8 percent in 2012.

Hawaii’s public school students took AP exams in 30 of the 34 offered subjects with English language and composition being the most popular test. English literature and composition, psychology, calculus AB and United States History were the next most popular exams, respectively.