Samuel Speciale/CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL - West Virginia is 48th among states and Washington, D.C. for the number of high school students passing the Advanced Placement exam, according to a report released Tuesday.

The College Board's 10th Advanced Placement Report found that just 9.4 percent of the state's high school seniors who took the test received a passing grade. The national average was 20.1 percent.

Although the score is low, it actually reflects progress since 2003, when only 5.5 percent of students passed.

"While we are pleased with the advances made over the past 10 years, we know that progress is not truly made until all parts of our student population participate in and succeed in AP," said Dixie Billheimer, CEO of the West Virginia Center for Professional Development.

Beth Cipoletti, assistant director of the state Department of Education's Office of Assessment and Accountability, said students in West Virginia go through a rigorous testing process before entering Advanced Placement courses.

Testing starts in 8th grade with the Explore test, which prepares students for high school coursework.

In 10th grade, students take the Plan test, which serves as a midpoint progress check before they have to take the ACT and Compass assessments in 11th or 12th grade. Schools then analyze Explore, Plan and ACT test scores and map students' progress to determine if they will succeed in an AP course.

Students enrolled in AP courses can earn college credit based on their test scores, which are ranked between 5 and 1. The College Board defines 5 as extremely well qualified, 4 as well qualified, 3 as qualified, 2 as possibly qualified and 1 as no recommendation.

These five scores can also be viewed as A through F letter grades.

There were 9,719 AP exams taken in West Virginia in 2013, with 6.9 percent of students scoring a 5, 12.6 scoring a 4, 22.2 percent scoring a 3, 29.7 scoring a 2 and 28.6 scoring a 1.

Jim Phares, state superintendent of schools, said some West Virginia students are taking advantage of AP courses, but small enrollment numbers show much work is needed.

"We must do better to reach all West Virginia students," Phares said. "The state Board of Education is committed to making reforms to see that happen."

Some forthcoming adjustments will include a revision to the state's Advanced Placement strategic plan, which will be created by the state Department of Education, state Board of Education, the West Virginia Center for Professional Development, the state Department of Education and the Arts, the state Higher Education Policy Commission and the College Board.

The partnership will work to create policies and practices that will help the class of 2018 succeed in AP courses. Some benchmarks include increasing the amount of students participating in one or more AP courses to 25 percent and striving to have at least 15 percent of the class score a 3 or higher on at least one exam.

Additional goals include improving African-American and other minority students' access to AP courses.

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