The number of Montana high school students taking Advanced Placement exams has increased over the past 10 years, and students’ ability to tackle college-level work is on the rise.

The report, released Monday by the Montana Office of Public Instruction, found that nearly 21 percent of the 2013 graduating class took at least one AP exam during high school, compared with just 13 percent in 2003.

“We’ve actually seen a 38 percent increase in participation among graduating seniors over the last decade,” said Madalyn Quinlan, chief of staff for the Office of Public Instruction. “Even better, we’re seeing that students are doing well in mastering the subject.”

Advanced Placement prepares students for college and can help reduce the cost of higher education. AP students are more likely than their peers to earn a bachelor’s degree in four years, and the tests can help them qualify for college scholarships.

According to OPI, Montana high school students took a total of 3,097 AP exams in May 2013 resulting in proficient test scores. The work compares to more than 9,200 college credits, saving parents and students more than $1.9 million in future college tuition costs.

“A score of 3 or higher, in many colleges and universities, provides you with course credit at the college level,” said Quinlan. “That allows students to jump ahead in many cases.”

OPI attributed the increase to teachers qualified to teach AP courses. The state last year received a grant to offer a summer course for teachers, boosting the number of Advanced Placement classes available at Montana high schools.

Quinlan said her office is developing strategies to provide more courses for teachers to teach AP classes, a move that could involve the Legislature. Advanced courses include U.S. history, government and politics, physics, calculus, language and composition, literature, and biology, among others.

“School districts have made a pretty intense effort to get those courses available,” Quinlan said. “It’s not universally offered around the state. But schools are seeing it as yet another way to ensure kids are college and career ready.”

Of the 23 AP courses offered in Montana, Bozeman High School leads the state by offering 17 of them. Sentinel High School is second, offering 12 AP courses.

Overall, Missoula County Public Schools leads the state with 21 AP courses, though none are offered at Seeley-Swan High School.

“In addition to seeing a trend of increasing academic success on AP exams, we’re proud to note that Sentinel High School has the second highest AP, dual enrollment and concurrent enrollment in the state,” said Hatton Littman, spokeswoman for MCPS.

The new report comes a week after Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau announced that Montana high school graduation rates are also on the rise, increasing from 80.7 percent in 2008 to 84.4 percent last year.

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

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