A Right to Rigor: A Journey for Alabama Students

By Tammy Dunn, Chief Academic Officer

On February 22, 2017 the College Board released its Advanced Placement (AP) Cohort Data Report for the Nation based on AP examinations that were given in spring, 2016. In May, 2016 Alabama students took 20,060 AP exams that resulted in a qualifying score of 3, 4 or 5. Because a qualifying score on an AP exam can potentially earn a student college credit, these scores represent an estimated 60,180 college credits which could save Alabama families as much as $20,140,441, based on the average national cost of $334.67* per credit hour.


This achievement is another benchmark along a continuing journey that began ten years ago with the goal of bringing access to rigorous coursework to Alabama high school students. The journey began with a 13.2 million dollar grant from the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) to the state of Alabama in 2007 with the mission of dramatically increasing access and success in Advanced Placement math, science and English classes. A new division of the A+ Education Partnership, A+ College Ready, was established to manage the grant and the work. The 13.2 million dollar grant required private funding and Alabama Power, Regions Bank, BOEING and many others became partners in the work. In addition, the state legislature and the Alabama Department of Education provided public funds to both begin and sustain the work. Following the five year tenure of the NMSI grant period, the state legislature and the ALSDE have continued to generously provide the funding to continue the work.


Fast forward ten years later—to 2017–when A+ College Ready in partnership with the State Department of Education is set to announce its tenth cohort of schools. This will bring the number of high schools served by the program to 171 representing 83 different school districts.


What has this program meant to Alabama students? The National Math and Science Initiative reports that when only AP math, science and English exams are considered, Alabama is #1 among all 50 states and the District of Columbia in growth rate. These courses represent the disciplines that A+ College Ready has supported since its inception. The College Board report** at the right shows that over the last ten years the rate of growth for students earning a qualifying score on any Advanced Placement exam is 7.2%, only 0.4% below the national average for growth! Another way to visualize this growth is to know that in 2006, 5.6% of the graduating seniors earned at least one qualifying score on an AP exam for a total of 3,771 qualifying scores. Ten years later, in 2016, 12.8% of the graduating seniors earned at least one qualifying score on an AP exam and earned a total of 16,705 qualifying scores. When comparing the number of qualifying scores of the class of 2016 to the number of qualifying scores of the class of 2006 the growth rate is an amazing 343%!


In 2007, Alabama ranked 49th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in AP success. In 2016, Alabama’s ranking had improved to 38th as a result of the growth described above. While these are results worth celebrating, there is still much work to do. To meet this challenge and to continue the trend of growth in Advanced Placement success, each year A+ College Ready actively pursues new high schools and the related middle schools with whom to work to expand access and success in rigorous coursework. A+ College Ready has also expanded its support to include Advanced Placement social studies and the new AP Computer Science Principles course. Over the years, the work has evolved to include deeper support for grades 6 – 10 in the high school feeder pattern in an effort to create a pipeline of students well prepared for the rigor of Advanced Placement or whatever pathway they may choose upon high school graduation.


Alabama students have proven that they are up for the challenge of rigorous coursework. The growth in AP success in our state is just under that of the national average for the last ten years. Our students have shown us that when they have access to rigorous courses taught by well-trained and well-prepared teachers in classrooms with appropriate resources, they can deliver. It is our dream and the mission of our work to bring this right to rigor to all of Alabama students.

*Estimates from the College Board. Based on an average in-state tuition and fees at Alabama public four-year colleges @ $10,040 per year or $334.67 per credit.
**AP Data Cohort Report, 2016