ASTORIA — More of the city's high school students took college-level courses last year than ever before, officials announced Tuesday — though critics say it still has a lot of catching up to do to even the playing field for all students.
A record 44,906 students took at least one Advanced Placement, or AP class, during the 2015-16 school year, up 8.4 percent from the year before. But only 24,006 of those students passed at least one of the tests, an increase of about 8.2 percent from the number who passed the year before, officials said.
More students of color enrolled in AP classes last year as well: the number of black students taking at least one class was up by 14.1 percent and the number of Hispanic students up by 9.9 percent compared to 2015.
The Department of Education launched a campaign last year called AP for All, which aims to equip every high school to offer at least five of the more rigorous courses, for which students can earn college credits, by the fall of 2021.
There are still 140 schools across the city that don't offer any AP classes, officials said.
"In some parts of this city, there were high schools that had AP courses for decades and decades, even generations, and other parts of this city there were high schools that never had a single AP course," Mayor Bill de Blasio said during an announcement at Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria, where students have the option to take four AP classes this school year for the first time.
"The presence of AP courses is a great equalizer," he continued. "It sends a message to every student: college can be for you if that's the choice you make."
Families for Excellent Schools, a group that organizes in support of charter schools, called the AP for All initiative a "worthy cause" but said it's not enough.
"Today's announcement is yet another example of the de Blasio administration tinkering at the margins instead of truly addressing the crisis in our schools," the group's CEO Jeremiah Kittredge said in a statement.
"Considering that in almost 100 high schools, not a single student can pass an AP exam, Mayor de Blasio's plan won't provide relief to the thousands of students trapped in failing schools.”
Parents and experts have previously criticized the city's high schools for not adequately preparing students for college-level work.
Education nonprofit Breakthrough New York says that less than 7 percent of the city's high schools meet the group's "college readiness" criteria, which looks at graduation rates, SAT scores, college enrollment and other factors, DNAinfo reported last month.
But Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said expanding access to AP classes is vital.
"The research is so clear — when you offer children opportunity, they will take advantage of it," Mulgrew said during Tuesday's press conference. "This should have been something the city enacted a long time ago."
The number of city high schools that offer AP courses increased from 301 during 2013-14 to 370 this year, with 63 high schools offering new AP classes this past September, including 31 schools that didn't have them at all the previous year.
Another 71 schools are currently receiving training to offer the classes in the future, with the goal every high school having at least five AP courses by the fall of 2021.
The initiative will cost $51 million a year by the time the goal is reached, officials have said.