SNOW HILL — Maryland has once again topped the nation in terms of average Advanced Placement (AP) scores in public schools, and Worcester County can boast its students are continuing to improve

The announcement that Maryland once again leads all other states in terms of AP testing success came from Gov. Martin O’Malley’s office this week.

“Because of the better choices we’ve made together to invest in our children’s future, we’ve built the No. 1 public schools in the nation,” wrote the governor in a prepared statement. “Thanks to our hardworking students, our dedicated educators and our outstanding parents, Maryland’s high school students have achieved the nation’s best performance on AP exams for seven years in a row, outperforming their peers and gaining the skills they need to learn, earn and grow in the future.”

O’Malley underlined the state’s commitment to education by referencing the 45 percent total increase in school funding statewide since 2006, despite the weak economy.

“Those investments are giving our principals, our teachers and our students the resources to continue to lead the nation in graduation rates, student achievement and the highest participation rate in AP science, technology, engineering and math exams in our state’s history,” he wrote.

But while Maryland’s 29.6 percent average of students who scored a 3 or higher on one or more AP exams in 2012, which rose two points from 2011, was enough to top the nation it paled in comparison to Worcester’s average.

“We were above the state average in AP,” said County Assistant Superintendent for Education Dr. John Gaddis. “We were at 59 percent, which is one of the highest that we’ve ever had. So we’re very proud of that.”

According to information from Worcester County Public Schools, participation in AP increased by 12 percent, or 47 students, last year compared to 2011. Mastery scores, where a student scores a 3, 4, or 5 on an AP exam also saw a significant rise from 51 percent in 2011 to last year’s 59 percent. It should be noted that Worcester includes all students in their AP average while the state focuses on seniors-only.

The most successful AP programs in Worcester were Statistics, Psychology and Calculus with 83, 75 and 65 percent mastery scores, respectively. The most popular courses were AP US History, Calculus and Psychology.

Despite the fact that Worcester beat the state average of the best performing state in the country by 30 percent, Gaddis said the county wants to see more.

“Even though 59 percent is above the state average, nowhere else in the county do we accept 59 percent,” he said.

Earlier this month, the College Board, which holds purview over AP programs, the PSATs and the SATs, visited Worcester to meet with educators.

“They have done a thorough study of our system and what we’re doing with AP for our students, and we’re going to be meeting with them later in March to discuss what they’ve found so that we can strengthen our program overall,” Gaddis said.  

Even with participation rates in the program climbing, Gaddis added that Worcester expects to see a boost in student involvement with the end-goal of having all students take at least one AP course.

“We feel we can get more participation from students with higher results,” he said.

Starting students earlier is also something the county strives toward, encouraging younger students who might traditionally wait until they are upperclassman to enter AP courses.

“More kids as sophomores are starting to take AP courses as well which is a good thing,” he said.

With the much discussed Common Core system set to be implemented in public schools across the country, Gaddis is not predicting any earth-shattering changes with how the county handles its AP program but would like to see a better “alignment of course work and testing,” with Common Core tying everything together.

Standards for the future in both participation and mastery scores will constantly be rising, said Gaddis, and judged not as much by the lower state-averages but by the benchmarks already set by Worcester. However, he did stress that while the school system expects the utmost of students it is also impressed with the efforts made last year. Gaddis attributed the success to a trinity of commitment between teachers, administrators and students.

The system works, he continued, because teachers are committed to high expectations in the classroom while administration is committed to offering those teachers the latest and most effective training. Finally, students have to be committed to wanting to succeed in their AP courses.

“Kids who are taking our AP courses are taking them seriously and they understand the expectation,” Gaddis said.