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RRPS earns praise for high level of AP test participation

Gov. Susana Martinez, third from left, chats with high-performing Rio Rancho High School students including, from left, Gabriella Mayes, Angelina Lopez, Anna Smith and Jade Gonzales, along with Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent V. Sue Cleveland, right, after Wednesday’s announcement of student success in AP classes throughout New Mexico. (Source: New Mexico Public Education Department)

Rio Rancho Public Schools continues to excel in rigorous Advanced Placement courses, with student participation tripling over the past decade, according to data released this week by the state Public Education Department.

In 2017, 856 Rio Rancho students enrolled in AP classes, up from 277 students in 2007. The number of AP tests completed across RRPS rose from 628 to 1,408 over that time.

The district has seen a slight decline since its all-time high in 2015 – when 1,078 students sat for 1,276 AP exams – but the trend is still positive.

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“We continue to meet with students and encourage participation as we believe that AP participation can be very rewarding and beneficial to a number of students,” RRPS spokeswoman Beth Pendergrass said in an emailed statement.

Across the state, AP classes are more popular than ever before.

PED reported that 19,526 students enrolled in AP classes in 2017.

And these students took roughly 17,000 AP exams during 2017, up from 15,700 in 2016 and 10,500 in 2010.

Gov. Susana Martinez celebrated the progress Wednesday during a news conference at Rio Rancho High.

“I’m so proud of our students for stepping up and taking some of the most challenging high school courses possible,” Martinez said. “When our students succeed in Advanced Placement classes, they show that they can succeed in a college classroom. New Mexico students are once again proving that when we set high standards and give them challenging opportunities, they will always rise to the occasion.”

AP courses give high school students a chance to earn college credits in a wide variety of subjects, potentially reducing the time and money it takes to finish a college degree.

While the number of New Mexico students participating AP courses has grown dramatically, the passing rate has declined since 2010.

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New Mexico had a 42 percent AP passing rate in 2010: 10,499 exams were taken and 4,373 were passed. In 2017, that rate fell to 35 percent: 17,073 exams were taken and 6,028 were passed.

PED Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski said it’s “a moral imperative to dramatically increase equitable access to Advanced Placement courses and exams to all students regardless of background, and the Governor and the PED will continue to forge ahead in that effort.”

“The fact that our students continue to pass AP exams with a score of 3 or better at a similar clip is evidence of how our teachers, students, and schools have risen to the challenge of higher expectations,” he said in an emailed statement.

At an average of more than $200 per credit hour, New Mexico students’ AP classes could save them as much as $4.26 million in college tuition costs.

Anna Smith, a Rio Rancho High senior, has already taken seven AP classes, and she’s enrolled in three more this year: statistics, macroeconomics and physics.

In the summer, she will move to Massachusetts to attend Worcester Polytechnic Institute, which offered her a generous scholarship.

“Advanced Placement classes have really allowed me to think outside the box,” she said. “I’ve had the opportunity to get many college credits, and these advanced placement classes look good to colleges and universities.”

Smith said she benefitted from the state’s test fee assistance program, which cuts the cost of an AP exam from $93 to $3 for students with financial need.

Last year, 4,707 New Mexico students, nearly half of all AP exam takers, received reduced price tests.

PED has recommended doubling the state investment in the fee waivers from $865,000 to $1.7 million.

Additionally, New Mexico now offers more AP teacher training, and is expanding online AP course offerings to boost rural students’ access.

On Wednesday, RRPS Superintendent V. Sue Cleveland thanked Martinez and PED for their commitment to the AP program.

“AP courses encourage students to pursue a rigorous curriculum and, certainly, we are so appreciative of the opportunity for students to earn those credits and to save that revenue, but I would tell you it is also about the learning,” Cleveland said. “It is about what they get out of the courses in terms of learning and growth and what they take away, which will not only help them in college but will help them for the rest of their lives.”

Before Wednesday’s news conference, Rio Rancho high sophomores attended a panel discussion with Smith and other high-performing seniors to learn more about AP courses.

Ruszkowski said the state’s dedication to AP is “all about improving student outcomes and making a difference in students’ lives.”

“The fact that we are a state here in New Mexico that is increasing access to Advanced Placement and increasing success – the number of kids earning 3s (passing test scores) or better – is something very, very, very few states in the country have been able to pull off,” he said.

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