My Thoughts on the 2024 AP Environmental Science Exam Score Distribution

I have to say, I was a bit surprised to see the AP exam score distribution for 2024. It’s essentially a carbon copy of the 2023 score distribution, with a slight shifting of 4s both up to 5s and down to 3s. The breakdown of 2s and 1s remains virtually unchanged. 

However, this is in the context of the course continuing to grow, with an unofficial number of 238,000 exams announced at the reading in Cincinnati, up from the official number of 209,757 exams in 2023. Since on average, the expansion of AP course access skews towards historically underrepresented schools and students, I still find it encouraging that roughly 13% more students gained access to this wonderful course without any decline in exam performance. 

Still, it would be nice to see more of our students earn college credit for their hard work. Just a reminder here that the exam is not scored on a curve and that the College Board does not intentionally set any “quota” or ideal score distribution. For a detailed breakdown of how AP exam scores are determined, check out this helpful screenshot below from Trevor Packer’s Twitter account:

And another reminder that the College Board ultimately answers to colleges. They must continually prove to skeptical college deans and presidents that earning an AP exam score of a 3+ demonstrates that students should be awarded introductory level credits from their institutions. 

Everything about the way AP exams are created and scored is geared towards their use as an instrument to determine student placement in a college level course sequence for a given subject. The College Board has no incentive to maintain artificially high or low pass rates for any exam. They simply work with colleges and professors in those subject areas to ensure that AP exam scores continue to be accurate predictors of student GPAs in subsequent courses in their respective subject areas.

One more time, for anyone who needs to hear it: the AP scores your students earn are not a direct reflection or referendum on your quality as a teacher. You’ve done an incredibly challenging job just by guiding your students through a year’s worth of college-level environmental science content. Be proud of the hard work you and your students put forth this year. If it results in college credit for your students, wonderful. If it doesn’t, there are both data and “anecdata” pointing to the fact that they’re better off for having taken the exam and experienced your teaching.

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