S.D. Students Do Well on Advanced Placement Tests : Education: State’s Class of ’91 shows marked gains as 3 La Jolla students take top national scholarship award.


California’s high school students scored their highest ever on the rigorous system of Advanced Placement examinations, the officials who administer the exams nationwide said Thursday.

California’s Class of 1991, which took the exams in the spring, ranked at or near the top in several categories that are used to gauge student success, College Board officials said at a news conference in San Francisco.

To the delight of local educators, San Diego students continued to boost their scores, as well as to snatch up more than their share of a much-coveted national award. Of the 13 students nationwide who won the scholarship award, seven were from California--and three hailed from La Jolla schools.

“I am very pleased with the scores. It’s certainly an indication that our reform efforts are beginning to take hold,” said Harry Weinberg, San Diego County superintendent of schools. “It’s really a credit to the teachers--there are a lot of unsung heroes working hard in classrooms. You don’t magically get scores like this.”


Supt. Tom Payzant of the San Diego Unified School District attributed the steadily increasing test scores to students’ willingness to study hard, teachers’ diligence, and to a greater availability of advanced courses.

“That’s the formula for success,” said Payzant, clearly thrilled with the successes of local students. “We really have expanded the Advanced Placement program over the last eight years so there are Advanced Placement programs in every high school.”

The Advanced Placement tests, offered in 29 subject areas, enable high school juniors and seniors who earn passing scores of 3 or higher to earn college credits.

Countywide, 25.2% of seniors scored high enough to qualify for college credit, which represents a 207% increase over the rate from the 1983-1984 school year. The county rate is also higher than that of the state, where 20.1% passed the exam. In San Diego Unified, 27.9% of seniors passed.


“It’s particularly significant that the city rate exceeds the county because people often think good things can’t happen in urban schools,” Payzant said.

Students at Coronado Unified, Poway Unified, and San Dieguito Union High districts continued to score among the highest in the county. San Dieguito, in fact, led the region as 64.2% of its seniors passed the exam.

The College Board also recognizes individual students as National Advanced Placement Scholars. These students have earned high scores on more than one exam. Nationwide, 13 won the award; of those, three were from San Diego.

“The educational level within San Diego is phenomenally high. You have a whole lot of people here who believe there are still opportunities for people to make it with the right academic background,” said Jay Tarvin, principal of La Jolla High School, a San Diego Unified school that had one student who won the national award. “While we do have a highly mobile society, people still value education.”

The three San Diego award-winning students are Larry K. Lee, a graduate of La Jolla High School, and Jason Waanders and Richard K. Kent, graduates of the private Bishop’s School in La Jolla.

Lee, now a freshman at Harvard University, had impressed all his high school teachers with a scientific aptitude combined with a warm sense of humor.

“He’s an extremely bright young man,” Tarvin said. “He was very, very popular with the kids.”

The state, the nation’s most populous, accounted for the largest numbers of exams taken--75,087 in public schools alone, with 48,958 of the tests, or 65%, producing qualifying, or passing, scores. That represents an increase over the previous year, 1989-90, when only about 46,000 exams produced qualifying scores.


It also led in the numbers of minority students who took the exams. Including private and public schools, 39,144 minority high school students took the tests in at least one subject area, a 62% increase from the 24,091 exams taken by minorities in 1988.

The state ranked sixth in the nation in the proportion of its juniors and seniors who took the exams, and sixth in the proportion who earned qualifying scores.

College Board officials said their Advanced Placement tests, along with the courses designed to prepare students to take them, have played a role in raising academic achievement and aspirations among high school students.

“Schools that offer AP courses are making achievement a clear priority, and sending a message that their students, teachers and administrators are taking risks and striving to go well beyond what is expected of them,” said Donald M. Stewart, College Board president.

Statewide, 20.1% of seniors who took the exams last year earned qualifying marks. By contrast, only 7.2% did so in the Class of 1984, the year the Department of Education launched statewide education reform efforts.

“This is very positive news about student performance--we’ve almost tripled our qualifying rate in the last seven years,” said state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig, who joined Stewart at the press conference. Noting that increasing numbers of students have limited English language skills or suffer from the effects of poverty and other problems, Honig called the gains “a real tribute to our students, their families and their schools.”

All minority groups in the state made gains, although Honig expressed concern that those made by black students were not as strong as for other groups. Between 1985--the first year data were available by ethnic group--and 1991, the qualifying rate for American Indians rose from 3.4% to 9.3%, while that for Asians shot from 19.2% to 44.4%. The rate for blacks went from 1.1% to 3.2%, while that of Latinos climbed from 2.7% to 11.1%. Among whites, the rate rose from 8.6% to 17.2%.

Honig attributed the gains to schools’ encouraging more students to take the Advanced Placement classes, which typically are smaller and enable teachers to give more individual attention. He said he was concerned that the public schools, facing reduced state funding in the wake of a stubborn recession, may not be able to continue funding the programs.


Although students must pay $65 to the college board for each test they take, qualifying marks can help reduce college costs because students do not have to take as many courses. A few states pay the test fees for students who cannot afford them, but financially strapped California does not do so.

The other California recipients of the national scholar awards were Edwin C. Chan of Torrance, Steven W. Huang of Irvine, Eugenia N. Kim of Arcadia, and Robin C. Peters of Burbank.

The Advanced Placement tests gained wider public awareness from the 1988 film “Stand and Deliver,” which told the story of former Garfield High School teacher Jaime Escalante’s dramatic success in preparing his Latino students to pass the AP calculus exam.

San Diego County Scholars

San Diego County high school seniors showed a dramatic improvement in scores for the College Board’s Advanced Placement examinations, as did students in the rest of the state. Most colleges and universities will give college credit to students that qualify with a score of 3 or higher on the optional tests, which are marked on a scale of 1 to 5. Exams Qualifying for Credit per 100 Seniors

Number of % Qualified % Qualified County/ Seniors in Class of Class of District Class of ’91 1984 1990 Statewide Average 244,142 7.2 19.0 San Diego County 19,090 8.2 22.0 Carlsbad Unified 349 2.2 14.0 Coronado Unified 139 50.9 68.0 Escondido Union High 1,137 5.3 13.3 Fallbrook Union High 380 10.1 34.1 Grossmont Union High 3,739 4.6 12.2 Mountain Empire Unified 97 * 3.8 5.9 Oceanside Unified 621 1.3 16.1 Poway Unified 1,242 15.8 43.8 Ramona Unified 273 4.5 9.5 San Diego Unified 5,600 10.5 24.8 San Dieguito Union High 841 12.8 46.7 San Marcos Unified 305 * 1.4 6.7 Sweetwater Union High 3,463 3.3 17.6 Vista Unified 845 13.4 19.8

% Qualified County/ Class of District 1991 Statewide Average 20.1 San Diego County 25.2 Carlsbad Unified 18.1 Coronado Unified 48.2 Escondido Union High 16.4 Fallbrook Union High 34.2 Grossmont Union High 13.3 Mountain Empire Unified 5.2 Oceanside Unified 12.4 Poway Unified 58.8 Ramona Unified 9.2 San Diego Unified 27.9 San Dieguito Union High 64.2 San Marcos Unified 8.5 Sweetwater Union High 20.9 Vista Unified 20.4

% Change County/ from District 1984 to 1991 Statewide Average +179 San Diego County +207 Carlsbad Unified +723 Coronado Unified -5 Escondido Union High +209 Fallbrook Union High +239 Grossmont Union High +189 Mountain Empire Unified +37 Oceanside Unified +854 Poway Unified +272 Ramona Unified +104 San Diego Unified +166 San Dieguito Union High +402 San Marcos Unified +507 Sweetwater Union High +533 Vista Unified +52

*1983-84 data not available. The substituted rate is the first year after 1983-84 with data available.

Source: California Dept. of Education, Sacramento