ECS Study on AP Access and Success in Rural versus Urban Schools

ECS Study on AP Access and Success in Rural versus Urban Schools

The Education Commission of the States (ECS) recently released a report entitled “Advanced Placement Access and Success:  How do rural schools stack up?”  The report finds that “despite the growing rates of AP opportunities in rural high schools, students in rural areas remain less likely to attend a high school offering AP than their urban and suburban counterparts.”

The report indicates that schools in rural areas serve nearly one-fifth of all public school students in the nation, with nearly thirty percent of all American public schools in rural communities with less than 2,500 residents.  These schools “struggle to attract and retain high-quality teachers” due to “geographic remoteness” and “shortcomings in infrastructure” such as lack of access to broadband internet.

Nonetheless, rural high school graduation rates are comparable for students in suburban areas and are often better than rates for students in urban schools.  However, rural students fall behind urban and suburban students at the postsecondary level.

“Data from the Department of Education’s Schools and Staffing Survey indicate that in 2011, only 45 percent of high school graduates from rural schools attended four-year colleges immediately after graduating from high school, compared to 49 percent of urban high school graduates and 52 percent of suburban high school graduates.  Even with the inclusion of two-year college attendance, the survey results indicate that on-time college-going rates of rural high school graduates fell short of their urban and suburban peers.”

Research shows that getting college credit via AP courses makes it more likely that a student will earn a postsecondary degree, so ensuring that these are made available to all students is important.

The ECS study focused on four metrics:

  • Student access to AP: Over the past 15 years, AP access increased for rural students, and gaps between rural students and their urban and suburban peers narrowed substantially.  If the rate of progress continues, rural students will soon have access to AP at the same rate as their urban and suburban peers. 
  • Student participation in AP exams: AP exam participation roughly doubled between 2001 and 2015 for rural, urban, and suburban students.  The AP participation gap between rural students and their urban and suburban counterparts narrows once the analysis is limited only to high schools offering AP, with rates for rural nearly the same as those for urban and suburban. 
  • Student performance on AP exams: Rural students score lower on AP exams overall than their urban and suburban counterparts, partially due to the fact that they have less opportunities to take these exams.  
  • Postsecondary success for high-performing students: High-performing rural students equal their peers in postsecondary success.  
Taken together, these four findings indicate that simply increasing access to AP exams for rural students should lead to higher rates of postsecondary success for these students.
KASB will soon be releasing our annual State Education Report Card, which includes information on how Kansas compares to other states in terms of population density and distribution.  Here are some facts about Kansas from the report:
  • Kansas ranks 40th in population per square mile as of 2016.
  • Kansas ranks 35th in the percent of the population in urbanized areas, 25th in the percent in urban areas, and 4th in percent in urban clusters.  Taken together, this suggests that Kansas is a largely rural state.
  • Other states similar to Kansas in population distribution are Alaska, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylania, South Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin.
You can read more about ECS’s study here.  And keep watching for the 2017 KASB State Education Report Card, which should be available some time in September.