Melinda Deslatte / The Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Louisiana's high school seniors had among the poorest performances nationwide in reaching passing scores on Advanced Placement exams, which are used to earn college credit, according to a report released Tuesday.
Data from the College Board shows that 5.3 percent of Louisiana's public high school graduates scored a 3 or higher last year on an AP exam, the grade most colleges require for students to earn credit. The tests are scored on a 1 to 5 scale.
The only state with a lower percentage of students scoring a 3 or higher was Mississippi, at 4.4 percent. Nationally, 20.1 percent of 2013's high school graduates reached the benchmark. Maryland led the country at 29.6 percent.
Despite lagging nearly all states, Louisiana's education department talked of the state's improvement ranking highest in the nation, with the number of seniors getting a 3 or higher growing by 25 percent from 2012 to 2013, compared to 6 percent nationally.
"As more seniors in Louisiana leave high school with college credits already under their belt it is further proof that the hard work being done in our classrooms is paying off for our students," said Superintendent of Education John White said in a statement.
However, the state's improvement was among the lowest in the nation when reviewed over the last decade.
Advanced Placement exams are available in 34 different subjects, with questions developed by college professors. In recent years, Louisiana has put a new focus on making the classes available to its public high school students, to help students transition to college and to add more rigor to their classrooms.
The Louisiana Department of Education says research shows that students who take Advanced Placement courses perform better in college. To help boost participation, the department said it will subsidize the exam cost for low-income students and will reimburse the cost for students enrolled in a public school that is starting or expanding its AP program.
More than 15 percent of Louisiana's public high school seniors, 5,516 students, took an AP exam in 2013 -- up from 11 percent, or 3,931 students, a year earlier. The report shows 1,911 of them reached the qualifying score of 3 or higher on the AP tests last year.
Gaps remain between white and black students in the testing.
While black students made up 40 percent of Louisiana's public high school graduates in 2013, fewer than 28 percent of the state's public school seniors who took the AP exams were black, according to the College Board.
Of the students who reached the score of a 3 or higher, only 12.2 percent were black.