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Over Bloomberg era, big increases in students taking SAT, APs

More than twice as many students took Advanced Placement exams, and more than 15,000 more high school seniors took the SAT this year than took the exams in 2002, Mayor Bloomberg announced today.

New College Board data show that the average SAT score of New York City students increased eight points over last year. But Bloomberg took the long view as he presented the data for the final time, emphasizing the growth over his time in office over the year-to-year numbers that typically get the spotlight.

The city did post small, across-the-board gains over last year in every SAT subject, with the biggest gains among Hispanic students, who saw a six-point average gain in writing and a five-point average gain in reading.

The city’s scores are still far below the national average, and big gaps remain among students. While the average total score for white students was a 1541 out of 2400, the average score for Hispanic students was 1235, and the average score for black students was 1225.

But the data also show the number of high school seniors taking the SAT has increased 53 percent from 12 years ago, and the number of students taking AP exams increased to more than 35,000, from about 17,000 12 years ago.

The city’s average SAT score remains behind the state average of 1463. The city’s average SAT reading and math scores are also lower than they were in 2002, which officials have attributed to the increases in participation, which typically come from more students taking the exam who would not have previously thought of themselves as college-bound.

The city released the data as the mayor pushes to define his legacy during his final weeks in office. Bloomberg attributed the gains to the city’s support of new, small high schools, and announced the numbers at Bedford Academy High School, which has 360 students and opened in 2003.

Principal Adofo Muhammad said 180 of his students were taking AP courses. “We kind of push the envelope, extremely,” he said.

Bedford clearly takes testing seriously. During Bloomberg’s press conference, Bedford students chuckled at their principal’s mention of “9 to 9s,” all-day test prep sessions that the school holds on Saturdays, seven times a year.

At those sessions, students prepare for Regents exams, AP exams, and the SAT, or spend the whole 12 hours working on a subject they’re having trouble with, according to junior Julius Blake.

“It’s long but it’s very good. It helps a lot,” he said.

In explaining the 12-year increases, Chancellor Dennis Walcott also pointed to the city’s focus on “college and career readiness,” including the new metrics on school progress reports that track how many students take college-prep classes and whether they persist in college after graduation.

The city is continuing to put AP classes into more schools though its Advanced Placement Expansion Initiative, announced this fall in cooperation with the College Board, which runs the AP programs. The initiative will add science, math, and technology AP classes to 55 high schools.

That’s part of a nationwide effort to enroll more black, Hispanic, and low-income students in AP classes. Some research has shown the classes improves student outcomes even if students don’t pass the end-of-year exams, though other experts have disputed those findings.