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Are Georgia schools good or bad? Depends on audience and agenda.

Politics makes for interesting and changing rhetoric depending on the aim, the agenda and the audience.

An hour ago, a steady stream of legislators, most notably Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones and House Education Committee Chairman Brooks Coleman, decried the state of Georgia schools in their successful effort to push through the governor's plan to take over failing schools.

The theme of that debate: Too many Georgia schools are resistant to efforts to improve.

And now, here comes this upbeat view of those same schools -- with a cheery message from Gov. Nathan Deal --  based on the state's impressive and improving pass rate on the highly competitive and difficult AP exams.

We are a high poverty state. But former state School Superintendent Kathy Cox began a push to get more high schools students into AP classes -- accelerated college-level courses typically taken by affluent kids  -- that took hold.

Go figure.

More Georgia students than ever are passing Advanced Placement (AP) exams during high school, according to data released this week.

Georgia ranks 15th in the nation for AP pass rates, with 22.2 percent of the class of 2014 scoring a 3 or higher on at least one AP exam. It’s also one of just 16 states to outpace the national average of 21.6 percent.

Georgia is also ranked 15th in the nation for ten-year growth in AP pass rates. The percentage of Georgia seniors passing an AP exam has nearly doubled in the last 10 years, rising from 12.3 percent in 2004 to the current 22.2 percent.

During the past decade, the number of Georgia graduates taking at least one AP exam has increased by nearly 20 percentage points, leading to a significant increase in the number of exams scoring 3 or higher – the scores typically required for college credit.

And Georgia’s strides toward more students taking AP courses and being successful on the exams continue. Georgia ranks 8th in the nation in the percentage of low-income students passing AP exams. There’s other encouraging news as well:

  • The number of African American graduates who took at least one AP exam during high school increased, in the last five years, from 7,316 to 9,369. The number of these students who scored 3 or higher on at least one AP exam increased from 3,989 to 6,448
  • 8.1 percent (2,483) of African American students from Georgia’s public high school class of 2014 scored 3 or higher on at least one AP exam during high school, compared to 7.2 percent for the nation
  • 12,121 low-income graduates in the class of 2014 took at least one AP exam during high school, more than 10 times the number of low-income graduates who took an exam in the class of 2004
  • Data from the graduating class of 2014 show that Georgia has succeeded in closing the equity gap in AP participation and AP success among Hispanic/Latino students. In 2014, 8.5 percent of Georgia’s public high school graduating class was composed of Hispanic/Latinos, compared to 9 percent of AP test takers and 8.8 percent of those who scored a 3 or higher

“I’m pleased to see these positive numbers, because they represent more kids being successful in our schools,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said. “Our students are achieving on higher levels, and that achievement is expanding through all student populations. That’s wonderful news for Georgia.”

Gov. Nathan Deal added, “These scores reflect the excellent work performed at schools throughout the state of Georgia. Students who perform well on these challenging tests have mastered rigorous course work and developed advanced critical thinking skills. To see such achievement promises bright futures for these students and for the next generation of Georgia’s workforce. I congratulate these hard-working students, their families who support them and their devoted teachers who enlighten them.”



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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.