Marcelo Junior knew early on in high school that he would have to challenge himself to stand out to colleges.
The Malden High School senior took three Advanced Placement classes and thinks the rigorous courses have given him an edge.
“I wanted colleges to see that I was pushing myself, not that I was just settling to get by and graduate,’’ said Junior, who will be attending UMass Boston in the fall.
Junior is among a growing number of Massachusetts high school students taking AP — college-level — courses and tests developed by the College Board. Over the past 10 years, the number of students has more than doubled.
In the 2006-07 school year, 26,169 Massachusetts students took 44,357 AP tests. In 2016-17, that number jumped to 54,078 students taking 98,355 tests.
Malden, for example, went from 118 students taking 204 tests to 480 students taking 910 tests — a fourfold increase in participation.
“There is research that shows that students taking college-level course work in high school better prepares them for college, makes it more likely they go college and are successful once there,’’ said Susan Lusi, president and CEO of Mass Insight Education and Research, which works with the state and 79 high schools to increase AP participation among underserved populations.
The College Board offers more than 30 AP courses in a wide variety of topics. Once students complete an AP course, they have the option of taking an AP exam. If students earn a score of 3 or higher, they may be eligible to receive college credit, advanced placement from their college of choice, or both.
In the Boston Public Schools, the number of students taking AP exams has doubled over the past decade. In 2006-2007, 1,626 students took 2,771 tests; in 2016-2017, 3,325 students took 5,697 exams.
School officials say while the college credit is appealing to many students, most are attracted to the classes because they’re rigorous.
“They know that if they challenge themselves with the highest-level course in high school and have a great learning experience, they are preparing themselves for when they go on and apply and engage in college,’’ said Derek Folan, principal of Canton High School. “It’s about building strong skills for college.’’
Canton High School increased its test takers from 73 in 2006-07 to 259 in 2016-17. The number of tests taken jumped from 120 to 555.
Folan said the school has increased offerings to give students more access to the advanced classes. He said the school also no longer requires class prerequisites to take an AP class, opening up the opportunity to more students.
“It’s our belief system that there shouldn’t be barriers around having equitable access to courses,’’ he said.
While more students are taking the tests, they are also scoring well.
For the second year in a row, Massachusetts is the top state in the nation in terms of the percentage of the graduating class that scored a 3 or higher on an Advanced Placement exam, according to results that the College Board released earlier this year.
Massachusetts also had the highest 10-year growth in the percentage of graduates who scored a 3 or higher.
“Massachusetts has set the gold standard when it comes to AP, and that is testament to the daily work of thousands of dedicated AP students and teachers,” said Trevor Packer, the College Board senior vice president responsible for the AP Program. “Educators in the state are making sure AP students’ success is at the core of their educational goals in order to prepare students for college and career success.”
Despite such gains, Folan said there is always a concern about students pushing themselves too much. In addition to working closely with teachers, students at Canton school must fill out an activity sheet so they can see everything that’s going on in their lives at the moment.
“We don’t want kids blindly saying we need to take three AP courses,’’ he said. “It can’t just be something that’s on a resume.’’
Concerns also remain about racial and gender imbalances among students taking AP classes. Mass Insight works directly with partner school districts to help close that gap.
Among the group’s efforts: Encouraging schools to remove such barriers as requiring a specific grade, or prerequisite, to take an AP class; and reaching out to families who might be reluctant for their children to take educational risks.
Some school officials said students have been a driving force behind more AP classes.
Scott O’Brien, head of guidance and the AP coordinator at Tri-County Regional Vocational Technical High School in Franklin, said the school has gone from offering two classes to six in the past few years. A new one will be added in the fall, and the school will continue to add them to meet interest, he said.
“There was an increased demand from the students based on the need of our vocational majors such as engineering,’’ he said. “They started to inquire more about dual enrollment at colleges if we didn’t offer classes here. They are always looking for more of a challenge.’’
That’s also been the case at Malden High School.
Harrison Zeiberg has taken six Advanced Placement courses and he’s not slowing down his senior year.
After focusing on English and history during his sophomore and junior years, Zeiberg decided to tackle economics even though he’d had little previous exposure to the subject.
“I always go towards things I’m interested in and I’ve always been confident in my ability to handle those classes,” said Zeiberg. “It’s my last year. Why not take on the challenge?’’Zipporah Osei can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at email@example.com.