Advanced Placement in Harford County Public Schools: A Surprise Announcement and a Closer Look

The drive to improve college readiness in Harford County Public Schools includes boosting student participation in rigorous Advanced Placement exams. For 2012, the school system has reported that exam participation soared, rising 20% over last year to a total of 1,824 students, despite high school enrollment that was flat overall. Test results also improved, with 64% of the exams taken in HCPS earning a passing score, up four percentage points from 2011. At a special celebration planned for Monday, November 12th, Harford Schools Superintendent Robert Tomback plans a surprise announcement regarding Advanced Placement achievement in HCPS. In the meantime, here’s a closer look at some 2012 results, including reports from the high school near you.

About Advanced Placement (AP)

The College Board develops Advanced Placement exams and offers them nationwide each May in over 30 subjects including English, calculus, history, foreign languages, sciences and the arts. Because AP exams test high school students on a college level, those who pass the benchmark for mastery can earn college credit, depending on the college they plan to attend.

In preparation for the exams, AP subjects are taught in high school by specially qualified teachers using course content approved by the College Board. Students can take AP classes and exams in more than one subject. However, students who take an AP class are not required to take the corresponding AP exam.

AP Subjects Offered in HCPS

According to data provided to The Dagger by HCPS, a total of 27 AP subjects were offered among the ten county high schools in the 2011-12 school year, although not all subjects were offered in all schools.

C. Milton Wright High School offered the greatest number of AP subjects (22) followed by Aberdeen (19); the fewest were offered at Harford Technical High School (4), Edgewood (13), and Havre de Grace (13). The number of AP subjects offered in a school depends on student interest and teacher availability, among other factors.

Test Me: AP Exams Taken in HCPS

Since testing is optional, not all students who take an AP class take the corresponding exam. Likely to opt out are students who don’t expect to score high enough to earn college credit. But there are other reasons students skip the test. Not all colleges grant credit for passing AP exams, and some students take AP subjects without college credit in mind. They may take an AP class for the challenge alone, or to boost their high school grade point average (grades earned in AP classes have a higher point value than non-AP grades). Lastly, because the College Board charges a fee of $89 per exam, cost can be a barrier, although fee waivers are available for students living in poverty.

In the 2011-12 school year, HCPS students enrolled in AP subjects chose to be tested 64% of the time. AP students at Joppatowne High and Edgewood High took the exams most often. At each of these schools, students enrolled in AP subjects opted to take the related exams 78% of the time. AP students took the exams least often at Fallston and Patterson Mill, taking the exams 53% of the time.

Among the AP exams taken in HCPS, 64% earned a passing score in 2012. The highest average passing rates were found at C. Milton Wright (79%) and Bel Air (71%) high schools. The lowest were at Joppatowne (34%) and Edgewood (41%).

Most Popular AP Subjects in HCPS

World History, U.S. History and Psychology topped off the list of most popular AP classes in HCPS, ranked by student enrollment. Among the subjects with more than 100 students enrolled, the highest rates of test-taking were found in English Language & Composition (80%) and U.S. Government (75%). Students took the exams least often in Biology (48%) and Human Geography (53%).

Passing rates among the most popular subjects ranged from a high of 82.5% in Human Geography to a low of 51% in U.S. History.

Below is a chart of the most popular AP subjects in HCPS, compiled by The Dagger from data provided by HCPS. The chart includes the total number of students enrolled in each AP subject; the number and percentage of AP enrolled students who took the corresponding exam, and the percentage of those exams earning a passing score.

Please note: Students may take more than one AP class—HCPS counts each class as a separate enrollment.

Source: HCPS data compiled by The Dagger

AP Results by High School

Below are the AP results at each Harford County high school, provided to The Dagger from HCPS. Please note: To protect student privacy, whenever AP courses or exams were taken by fewer than five students, exact figures were not provided by HCPS. Instead, the data boxes on the chart below were colored yellow. Blank (white) boxes indicate where AP subjects were not offered at all in certain schools. No AP subjects were offered in the Center for Educational Opportunity (CEO) alternative education program. Please remember that students may take more than one AP class; HCPS counts each class as a separate enrollment.


  1. Fed UP says

    Is the announcement that the county will pay for the students to take the test? Just like they pay for every 10th and 11th grader to take the PSAT!

    • Larry says

      My child graduated from HCPS in 2012 and got college credit for 6 AP subjects at Unversity of Maryland, saving 19 credit hours at $371 per credit. Well worth the cost of the AP test. Glad to have paid less than $600 to save over $7000.

  2. Cindy Mumby says

    I don’t know yet – the info is “embargoed” until Monday, according to the media alert we got from HCPS. The AP celebration is planned at C. Milton Wright at 2:45 p.m. We will report it asap.

  3. Brian says

    Instead of reading the U.S. News high school rating and concluding that the yardstick for a good high school is based on the number of AP classes taken, please consider the information offered at the websites below. The bid idea from these sources is that AP is good but over sold.

    College Board has carefully crafted a campaign to build support for their product by having AP test used to evaluate high school therefore motivating parents, teacher and administrators to push the product. If HCPS will now pay for the testing College Board can now offer fat bonuses to the their employees.

    Before buying the AP solution to educational woes, asking, “Where is the study that shows the actual rate at which AP classes are turned into real college credits?” Individual results are nice but do not tell the whole story.

    • Kharn says

      I definitely agree, the rates of students acheiving 1/2, 3, 4 and 5 are much more telling than the number of tests taken. Grouping the 3s with the 5s distorts the perceived success rate, 5 shows mastery while 3 shows barely passing but they are reported as a combined number in most sources. This also reflects on the teacher, not just the students, as there are some high school teachers that have no business teaching AP classes.

      • disappointing says

        But let us not forget there are many students that should not be in AP classes. Individual schools and entire school districts aggressively encourage borderline students to take AP courses because increased numbers make them look good.

  4. Aberdeen parent says

    Cindy, last year you posted results from the AP tests showing total numbers of how many students in each school received a 3,4,or 5 on the specific tests. Will you be able to obtain those same results and publish them as well? Thanks in advance.

    • Concerned Teacher says

      Isn’t that the definition of passing? If so, then the data is already there in the report.

      • Aberdeen parent says

        While a 3 or higher is indeed passing according to the College Board, many colleges only accept 4’s and 5’s, including University of Maryland College Park. That information is useful in planning future courses for 9th and 10th graders who may be concerned about taking a class where 4’s and 5’s are not the norm.

      • jj johnson says

        A D in classes are considered passing also, but would you accept that as an achievement? Just “passing” a criteria is not acceptable.

    • Cindy Mumby says

      Aberdeen parent -I will ask HCPS for the AP data you requested and I will publish if available.

  5. Shameful says

    It’s a shame when over 125 kids take a class and only 50 some feel prepared to take the exam and not even all those kids pass.

    • AnotherHCPSTeacher says

      The reluctance to take the exam is more complicated than simply not feeling prepared. I have had students not take the exam because they wanted to go on a field trip that day. I’ve had others feel it was not worth the time. This baffles me since taking the exam is a safer bet than playing at one of soon to be built casinos.

    • Reggie says

      Do you honestly think these students don’t take the test because they don’t feel prepared? Students take AP for several reasons. Some take it for the grade point average bump, others take it because they feel pressured to take an AP course (by Mom or by the school administration), and others take it because their friends are taking the course. Sound unbelievable? It is, until you actually talk to some of the good folks who teach these classes.

      In many instances, there is no prerequisite to take an AP course. Any kid can take it, unlike when I was in school…only the cream took those courses.

      Now you have courses inundated with kids who shouldn’t be there in the first place. If you are sitting in AP Economics with a D average, would you take the test? If you are taking the course because it “looks good on a college application” and you just want the bump in GPA, would you stress over a 90 dollar test?

      Your assumption is flawed.

  6. lpshawn1 says

    I graduated from a HCPS in 2004 and graduated with a B.S. in chemistry in 2008. I took AP chem my senior year in high school, took the test, and failed miserably. Although I failed in high school, the class was actually a wonderful primer for Chem 101 and 102 that I took when I went to college. These classes were fairly easy because of the background I had already learned in AP chem. Don’t necessarily view failing grades on the AP exam as a waste-it is still very beneficial.