Florida’s AP program deemphasizes preparation for STEM careers

If you are wondering whether Florida’s public schools set a high priority on preparing their students for bachelors-level STEM careers, consider the AP exams their students took this month.

Nationally, students took about 4.5 million AP exams during the last few weeks.  Last year, 28.6% of the AP exams taken nationally were in subjects that count toward bachelors’ degrees in STEM fields.  That includes AP courses in Calculus (AB and BC), Statistics, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science and Physics.

The picture is quite different in Florida.  This spring, only 18.7% of Florida AP course enrollments in school districts were in Calculus, Statistics, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science and Physics – quite a bit lower than last year’s 29% national exam rate for those subjects.  That is, AP courses that give students a head start toward bachelors’ degrees in STEM fields play a much smaller role in Florida’s AP program than they do nationally.

Of course, the emphasis on STEM preparation AP courses varies from district to district in Florida.  Rural Calhoun County only offered one AP course this year – AP Physics 1.  Six students there took it.   Two other rural counties, Holmes and Union, offered AP Chemistry and Biology.  But most rural counties in Florida didn’t offer any such opportunities.

Among medium and large school districts in Florida, not a single one matched the national rate for AP course-taking in STEM preparation subjects.  Brevard came the closest, at 26.0%.  Monroe County was close behind at 25.1%.  But as the plot below shows, many of Florida’s school districts have AP STEM preparation rates of 15% – about half the national rate – or even lower.

The 2015 AP course enrollment numbers were downloaded from the College Board site.  This spring’s Florida course enrollment numbers were downloaded from the Florida Department of Education site, which as always is a national model.

One more note on the plot below.  Since the only AP course Calhoun County offered was AP Physics 1, their rate is 100%.  I cut the plot off at 40% to make the rates for the rest of the state’s school districts more readable.


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