Why New Mexico’s Latino Students Top Nation on AP Tests

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New Mexico’s high school students had Advance Placement exam scores that were below the national average. But when it came to Latinos, the state had the highest percentage of students who passed the test, according to the report released by The College Board, the group that administers the popular exams.

Nearly half of New Mexico's Latino high school graduates took an AP course last year. Of those students, 43 percent scored a 3 or higher on the college entrance exam – the highest percentage in the country.

The figure below illustrates what is pretty remarkable about New Mexico’s achievement compared to other states with large Latino populations.


In 2013, 53.3 percent of New Mexico’s high school graduates were Latino, of those students 46.7 percent took the AP exam with a large percentage of them passing the test and earning college credit. If you compare those numbers to other states with a high Latino populations like Texas, you see a much bigger gap between the Latino students taking AP exams and those passing the AP.


“There’s been a really effective set of strategies to promote the value of advance placement coursework to Hispanic parents,” Trevor Packer, Senior Vice President, AP and Instruction at the College Board told Fusion in a phone interview.

“What we’ve seen New Mexico doing is proactively reaching out to minority students and informing them of these AP opportunities and encouraging them to take them,” Packer went on to say.


In recent years the state launched a number of programs to help Latino and low-income students pass their AP exams. Here’s a look at some of the unprecedented programs:

1. AP materials were translated to Spanish, with the goal of increasing parental involvement.
In an unprecedented move New Mexico became the first state to partner with the College Board to translate AP course materials to Spanish. The program was so successful that other states launched similar strategies. (New Mexico also has AP materials in the Navajo.)


2. AP online course
Today if you look at the national demographics of where AP courses exist the schools least likely to have these advance programs are rural schools.

“A challenge that New Mexico faces is that there are a lot of small rural schools in the state and small schools nationwide are where it’s most challenging to set up AP programs because the funding for such schools can’t afford to have a regular teacher and an AP teacher,” explained Packer.


New Mexico has provided direct funding to train rural teachers to become AP teachers, as well as launching online courses to help students access courses that were unavailable because of their location.

3. The state launched a program in low-income areas aimed at preparing middle school students for high school AP classes.
New Mexico launched pilot programs in Pojoaque, Bernalillo, Carlsbad and Zuni to help low-income and students of color advance in AP classes when they reach high school.


4. AP Teacher stipends
AP teachers who improve student achievement from one year to the next receive a $5,000 bonus.

“In New Mexico, the Hispanic student population in AP is catching up with their representation overall,” Packer said.


To pay for these programs New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez secured $750,000 and a state grant of $1 million from the non-profit College Board.

Governor Martinez's hopes to expand the program, her new education budget includes $2 million to increase AP access and support services throughout the state.