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Lawmakers Looking for Ways to Get More Oklahoma High Schoolers in AP Courses

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Oklahoma high schoolers’ participation in Advanced Placement courses is up slightly, but officials want to boost it even more.

The program's curriculum is standardized by the College Board and can help students earn college credits. The good news is AP course enrollment is up slightly already. Robbyn Glinsmann with the Oklahoma State Department of Education said in 2017, fewer than 17,000 students were in AP courses, but in 2018, almost 18,000 were.

"That equates to AP exam participation. So, those students in 2018 took 30,712 AP exams," Glinsmann said.

However, 18,000 students is only about one in 10 Oklahoma high schoolers.

The urban-rural divide is a problem lawmakers will need to solve. Of the 290 Oklahoma high schools not offering AP courses, 271 are in rural areas.

Some states offer incentives to get AP programs off the ground. Oklahoma Achieves Executive Director Ryan Walters said Arizona uses the funding awarded for students passing AP exams.

"Areas that are high in poverty, they weight that so that if they get three or four students passed, they get the maximum dollar amount as compared to some of the larger, more affluent districts," Walters said.

State officials are hoping a three-year study of virtual offerings in five rural districts may help, along with better promotion of AP courses available through career techs.

Funding and program structure could also be issues. Oklahoma spent $1.3 million on its AP program last year, about one-third of what neighboring Arkansas spends on theirs. Arkansas’ program is also more stringent, requiring all schools to offer at least four core AP courses and teachers to recertify every five years.

Nearly one in three Arkansas seniors is enrolled in AP courses. University of Arkansas Office of Education Policy Director Sarah McKenzie said AP’s standardized curriculum matters to universities and businesses.

"I can’t determine the quality of a community college class that’s being taught by a professor and what that ‘B’ means for that student’s knowledge, and with AP, you can," McKenzie said.

Walters said a Harvard-bound Oklahoma student could not get the university to accept her junior college credits, but her AP credits transferred.