The Florida Department of Education and its cheerleaders regularly brag about the performance of the state’s high school students on Advanced Placement (AP) exams.
Sunshine State News columnist Nancy Smith recently cheered that Florida “is fifth in number of high advanced placement test scores of any state relative to the number of 11th and 12th-grade students in the state”. Smith’s column was written in response to a controversy over a political ad run by Governor Rick Scott (who is running for U.S. Senate) that cited the state’s AP success.
And the state is indeed a national leader in AP social science exams. Florida does well in English, the arts and world languages as well.
This success is driven at least in part by the state’s system of financial incentives for public high schools where students succeed on AP exams.
But those financial incentives are not enough to drive success in AP math and science subjects, where Florida is merely average.
The first plot below compares Florida’s success in different categories of AP exams to that of the nation at large and our number one competitor, Massachusetts. Specifically, the plot shows the numbers students passing AP exams per 1,000 high school students.
Florida competes with or even beats Massachusetts in world languages, social sciences, English and the arts. But Florida students are far behind those in Massachusetts in math and science. And Florida is only at the national average in those subjects.
The plot below compares Florida with Massachusetts and the nation for individual math and science subjects. The striking thing is that many Florida students take and pass the AP exams in the program’s easiest science subjects – Environmental Science and Computer Science Principles. Without those two subjects, Florida would look even worse than it already does.