Not long ago, Advanced Placement exams were mostly for top students looking to challenge themselves and get a head start on college credit. Not anymore.
In the next two weeks, 2 million students will take 3.7 million end-of-year AP exams – figures well over double those from a decade ago. With no national curriculum, AP has become the de facto gold standard for high school rigor. States and high schools are pushing AP classes and exams as a way to raise standards across the board, in some cases tying AP to bonuses. And the federal government is helping cover the exam fees.
Now, AP's rapid growth is reaching even schools serving some of the most disadvantaged students. These schools are embracing AP as a comprehensive toolkit for toughening coursework, emphasizing college preparation and instilling a "culture of excellence."