Maryland students ranked first in the nation on their Advanced Placement exams for the third straight year, with 26.4 percent of last year's seniors passing at least one of the college-level tests.

Virginia placed third for the fourth year in a row, as 23.7 percent of commonwealth graduates passed an AP exam, which measures how well high school students master college-level courses. The rival states sandwich New York's second-place finish at 24.6 percent.

Black students and the AP
Maryland and Virginia were among 14 states that closed their Hispanic achievement gap, but they say there's work to be done for their black students.
% of 2010 graduating class% of successful* AP examsEquity rating (out of 100)
*Successful = passed one or more Advanced Placement exam with a score of 3 out of 5
**Ranked among states
Source: College Board
Top 10 states
% of students passing at least one AP exam
New York24.6%
National average16.9%
Source: College Board

On the other end of the scale, just 6.9 percent of District graduates passed an AP exam, above only North Dakota, Louisiana and Mississippi. Scoring a three out of five on the test is considered passing.

This is the second first-place finish of 2011 for Maryland, which ranked as the nation's top public school system in January by Education Week's independent "Quality Counts" report.

"Congratulations to the state of Maryland," said Gaston Caperton, president of College Board, the nonprofit that administers the AP exams. "Maryland students are rising to the challenge set by educators across the state and, as a result, more students graduate high school armed with the tools to succeed in college and beyond."

Montgomery County's success rate was nearly double the state's, with 50 percent of students passing one or more Advanced Placement tests, and pulling up Maryland's average. Nationally, the success rate was 16.9 percent.

"Clearly, [Montgomery] is a driving force in the state and nation in providing all students access to AP classes," county Superintendent Jerry Weast said.

In Fairfax County, 43.5 percent of the class of 2010 passed at least one Advanced Placement exam, while 54.4 percent passed either that or an International Baccalaureate test, a specialty of several Fairfax schools.

Students who pass Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses are eligible for college credit at most universities.

Both Maryland and Virginia were recognized for eliminating an achievement gap between Hispanic students and their white and Asian peers, who traditionally perform better on standardized exams. In Maryland, 7.7 percent of the passing seniors were Hispanic, compared with the 7.1 percent Hispanic population of the state. Hispanic Virginia students accounted for 6.9 percent of passing seniors and 6.8 percent of the population.

Gaps remained for both states' black students but the College Board honored Eleanor Roosevelt High in Prince George's County and Montgomery's Paint Branch High for their black students' test success.

"We are very proud that Eleanor Roosevelt High School has received national recognition," Prince George's Superintendent William Hite said. "Ensuring that our students graduate college- and career-ready is our primary goal, and AP courses provide a unique opportunity for students to experience college-level work."