Proportion of African- American Students Who Pass A.P. Exams Low

More than 15 percent of the three million students who graduated from public high schools last year passed at least one Advanced Placement exam, the College Board said Wednesday, but African-American students were still far less likely to have passed, or to even have taken, an A.P. exam than white, Hispanic or Asian students.

In its fifth annual report on its A.P. program, the College Board said the program was growing steadily. More than 460,000 students, or 15.2 percent, passed an A.P. exam last year, compared with 14.1 percent in 2007 and 12.2 percent five years ago.

But the program is not spreading evenly across the nation. In Mississippi and Louisiana, fewer than 4 percent of high school graduates passed an A.P. exam last year, and in 17 other states, fewer than 10 percent passed one.

At the other end of the spectrum, in Maryland and New York, the states with the most active Advanced Placement programs, more than 23 percent of high school graduates passed an exam. And California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Virginia also had at least one in five graduates pass an A.P. exam last year.

The A.P. program offers high school students the chance to do college-level work in dozens of subjects and, if they pass the exams, to receive college credit at many universities. The exams are marked on a scale of one to five, with a three needed to pass.

But as in most aspects of American education, troubling ethnic gaps remain. African-Americans are seriously underrepresented in the A.P. program, and no state has yet closed that gap, said Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board.

While 14 percent of last year’s high school graduates were black, they made up only 8 percent of those taking A.P. exams — and only 4 percent of those with passing scores. White students, at 63 percent of graduates, and Hispanics, at 15 percent, were nearly proportionately represented in the A.P. population. Asian students were overrepresented, making up 5 percent of graduates, but 10 percent of those taking A.P. exams.

Low-income students made up 17 percent of those who took A.P. exams last year, up from 16.2 percent in 2007, the report said.

This year, given the recession, Mr. Caperton stressed the economic benefits of the program.

“In these times of economic distress, as family budgets are squeezed and financial aid resources are spread thin, rigorous courses like A.P. that prepare students for the demands of college and foster an increased likelihood of on-time graduation can be a very valuable resource for families,” he said.

With a minority graduating from college in four years, A.P. credits can cut college costs by bolstering on-time graduation. For an out-of-state student at a public four-year university, the extra cost of taking six years to complete an undergraduate degree averages more than $58,000, the College Board said, while even five years for an in-state student costs an extra $18,000.