Report: Advanced Placement Rural Access Gap Substantially Narrowing

Education Commission of the States and College Board report documents how as rural student participation on AP Exams has increased, performance has not declined

NEW YORK—A joint report released today from Education Commission of the States and the College Board—Advanced Placement Access and Success: How Do Rural Schools Stack Up?—shows a steady increase in Advanced Placement® (AP®) participation in rural communities over the past 15 years. As a result, the AP participation gap between rural students and their urban and suburban peers has narrowed significantly, though it is not yet closed.

The percentage of rural high school seniors who took at least one AP Exam during high school more than doubled, from 10% in 2001 to 23% in 2015. Much of the growth in participation is due to more rural schools offering at least one AP course. Between 2001 and 2015, rates of AP access for rural high school seniors increased from 56% to 73% for at least one AP course and from 42% to 62% for at least one STEM AP course. Nearly all students in urban and suburban regions attend a school that offers at least one AP course, with rates near or exceeding 90% across the past 15 years. If the rate of progress continues in rural schools, the report concludes, rural students will soon enjoy access to AP at the same rate as their urban and suburban peers.

“Approximately one-fifth of all K–12 students in the nation are served by rural schools and policymakers are looking for ways to support their educational attainment. This collaborative report from Education Commission of the States and the College Board demonstrates that rural students who are able to take advantage of and demonstrate success in AP opportunities enroll and persist in college at rates comparable to their urban and suburban peers,” said Jeremy Anderson, president of Education Commission of the States. “Improving AP access in rural areas is one way policymakers can help rural students achieve their educational goals.”

Even as participation has expanded, the percentage of rural students earning a score of 3 or higher on an AP Exam remains steady. Among AP Exam takers, more than half (53%) of rural high school seniors from the class of 2015 obtained a passing AP score, compared to 54% for the class of 2001.

“We must no longer let economies of scale neglect rural America. All students with the potential to succeed in AP should be able to access those opportunities,” said Trevor Packer, head of the AP Program. “This report shows that many educators are steadily removing barriers to access in rural communities, yet more work can be done. State education leaders can take action to further close the rural AP opportunity gap.”

State policy that considers and prioritizes the specific needs of rural schools can play a clear role in addressing the opportunity gap between rural and other schools. The May 2016 Education Commission of the States report, Advanced Placement: Model Policy Components, lays out 11 policy actions states can take to improve advanced placement access and success. Several of these actions would be particularly helpful in increasing rural student access to AP courses. For instance, states might follow the lead of Arkansas, Indiana, and South Carolina, which require that all public high schools offer at least one AP course. States can also use financial support to increase AP access in rural schools. States might choose to provide support for teacher training and professional development so that rural schools can “grow their own” AP teacher leaders; 25 states currently make funding available for teachers to attend AP training. Additionally, states could include accountability incentives to all public schools for AP participation and success.

Examining the postsecondary trajectories of students who earned a college credit–level score on at least one AP Exam, the report finds that these students—whether from rural, urban, or suburban areas—demonstrated extremely high postsecondary enrollment and retention rates compared with national college-going and retention rates. It also found that a large majority of high-achieving rural, urban, and suburban AP Exam takers enroll in four-year colleges.



College Board
Zach Goldberg
[email protected]

Education Commission of the States
Amy Skinner
[email protected]


About Education Commission of the States

Education Commission of the States serves as a partner to state policymakers by providing personalized support and helping education leaders come together and learn from one another. Through our programs and services, policymakers gain the insight and experience needed to create effective education policy. For further information, visit ecs.org.