North Dakota showed the largest gain in students who passed Advanced Placement exams last school year compared to other states, the Department of Public Instruction said Wednesday.

The number of exams that made the cut grew 16.9 percent, the department said in a press release. Nationwide, the average increase was 5.5 percent.

"Although these increases are good, we still have a lot of improvement to make," State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said.

High school students who receive sufficient scores on AP exams can earn credit at many colleges throughout the United States.

Baesler's "Leveraging the Senior Year" initiative aims to get more students taking AP exams. At 13.8 percent, North Dakota has the lowest rate in the United States of students who sit for tests. The national average is 35.7 percent.

Baesler's initiative offers scholarships to students, training for teachers, instructional materials and mentoring.

Earlier this year, she encouraged school districts to join with the National Math and Science Initiative in applying for a federal grant to promote AP. Bismarck, Mandan and West Fargo school districts hopped on board, Mandan Superintendent Mike Bitz said last month.

The grant offers students cash for passing the year-end tests, as well as money for teachers when their kids do well on exams.

(Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8267 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.)

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