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There's a lot to worry about in Utah's public education system: crowded classes, high teacher turnover, the lowest per-pupil funding in the nation. But the Beehive State's record when it comes to Advanced Placement classes and tests is one bright spot that everyone can applaud.

AP courses offer rigorous academic instruction in a variety of subjects and, if students pass end-of-term tests, can result in college credit without students paying college tuition. To pass, they must achieve a score of at least 3 on a scale of 1 to 5 on the final exam.

Utah high school students rank high, both in the percentage of students taking AP tests and the percentage who earn passing scores.

A total of 22,088 Utah students, in public and private schools, took 35,721 AP exams last spring (each student may take several courses and tests). They had a 67.1 percent pass rate, significantly higher than the national pass rate of 58.9 percent.

The 20,638 public-school students who took tests had a pass rate of 67.4 percent, higher than the national pass rate for public-school students (56.9 percent) and also a little higher than the pass rate for Utah private school students.

The schools producing those numbers deserve to be models, but even more important are the increases in AP course enrollment and test-taking among minority students.

Participation among all Utah students rose 8.4 percent this year. But more impressive: The number of Latino students taking the tests jumped by 23.3 percent. Latinos are the largest and fastest-growing minority group in Utah.

Black student participation increased 22.5 percent, American Indians 21.1 percent, Asians 19 percent and Mexican-American students 10.7 percent.

AP courses are an important part of high school in Utah. They give students a glimpse into the challenge of college or university classes, while helping them develop study habits that can help make them successful.

While Utah legislators have for years promoted concurrent enrollment as a low-cost way for high school students to get a jump on earning required college credits, AP courses are even better.

The credits earned through concurrent enrollment may not be accepted at institutions other than the one where they were awarded. But AP credits are accepted virtually anywhere, and students don't have to leave the high school.

Higher participation in AP courses should be a goal of every Utah high school.