Hillsborough students performed slightly better on this year's Advanced Placement exams even as more students took the college-caliber tests, the latest scores show. Pinellas and Pasco students received mixed results.
In Hillsborough, students passed 10,970 of the tests (up from 9,674 last year), while improving the district's overall pass rate from 36 to 38 percent. Brandon High alone jumped from 32 to 40 percent of students passing, even as 130 more were tested.
"You can get other students to be in your AP class and still be successful," Brandon principal Carl Green said. "That's what we proved this year."
AP results in Florida have come under growing scrutiny because of efforts to put thousands of "average" students into classes once limited to the brightest. State and district officials believe those students can succeed with better preparation for both them and their teachers. Critics fear they're stretching AP teachers too far and ruining the experience for traditional AP students.
Under superintendent MaryEllen Elia, Hillsborough has ramped up AP faster than almost any district in the nation. But other Florida districts are pushing the limits, too, nudged by a new state grading system that rewards schools for AP enrollments.
In Pinellas and Pasco, the latest results show the same, long-term trend as the state: a big upswing in participation, a big jump in the number of passed tests, but a dip in pass rates.
Pasco students took 5,089 AP tests this year, up from 3,619 last year. Their pass rate fell from 48 to 43 percent, but the number of passed tests rose from 1,722 to 2,198.
Pinellas increased the tests taken from 7,686 to 9,806, and the number passed from 3,603 to 4,020. But its pass rate fell from 47 to 41 percent.
"It certainly doesn't make us happy" to see pass rates fall, said Bill Lawrence, the district's director of advanced studies. But "it's not unusual for this type of implementation dip when districts have opened access and experienced great growth."
Schools and districts can access AP results through the College Board, the company that administers the program, but they are not available to the public. Hernando results were not yet available.
The results are preliminary, but the final results are not likely to be much different.
In Hillsborough, students took 29,571 tests this year, up from 26,523 last year. Nineteen of its 27 traditional high schools (two are new, so there is no past data for comparisons) saw increases in passed tests, while 12 saw increases in pass rates.
Hillsborough, King and Middleton were the only schools with drops in both passed tests and pass rates. At Hillsborough, the number of passed tests fell from 652 to 547, while the pass rate fell from 46 to 36 percent.
In Pinellas, 10 of 16 traditional high schools saw increases in tests taken, while 14 saw drops in pass rates.
Dixie Hollins doubled its exams from 97 to 199, but also hiked its pass rate from 24 to 26 percent. The only other high schools to see pass rates rise were Gibbs and St. Petersburg.
Under principal Michael Bohnet, Dixie increased its AP offerings from five to 13 this year.
"I'm going to say way to go, way to be gutsy," said principal Dan Evans, who replaced Bohnet on July 1.
Northeast saw the biggest bounce in participation, going from 250 exams to 641. Its pass rate fell from 33 to 27 percent, but its number of passed exams rose from 82 to 174.
East Lake's pass rate dropped from 61 to 60 percent. But it saw the biggest increase in passed exams, from 633 to 800.
Seminole, Boca Ciega, Dunedin, Lakewood, Largo and Tarpon Springs saw both pass rates and pass numbers fall. Principals at Seminole, Largo and Tarpon Springs did not return calls for comment.
In Pasco, all but one high school (Sunlake) increased the number of AP tests taken, and all but one (Zephyrhills) increased the number passed.
Wesley Chapel High nearly tripled the number of tests taken (from 176 to 501) and saw its pass rate plummet (from 49 to 27 percent). But its students passed 134 tests, up from 87.
Times staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report.