New Haven Public Schools were honored nationally for student achievement on Advanced Placement exams for the first time last week.

The school district was named to the National AP District Honor Roll, an award given to 539 school districts across the United States and Canada. New Haven is one of two school districts in Connecticut with more than 30 percent minority students or students on free or reduced lunch to receive the award.

This is the third year of the AP District Honor Roll, which recognizes school districts that increase access to AP classes and improve the percentage of students who score a 3 out of 5 or higher on exams.

“Making the National AP Honor Roll is a huge honor for New Haven Public Schools and a sign that we are moving in the right direction as a district committed to boosting academic achievement,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Reginald Mayo said.

The number of students participating in AP classes in New Haven rose from 510 in 2010–’11 to 617 in 2011–’12. These students took a total of 1,068 AP exams, and received 405 scores of 3 or better. This is a 33 percent increase from last year, when students received 305 grades of 3 or higher on 1,037 exams. In addition to increasing the percentage of students who received high exam scores, New Haven met the other requirements for the award, which stipulated that participation in AP classes must increase by at least 4 percent in large school districts and that the percentage of minority students taking the exams must not decrease by more than 5 percent.

Success was not only limited to the school district, though, as 79 students earned individual awards for their AP achievement. Wen Jiang ’16, who attended Hill Regional Career High School, qualified for the National AP Scholar Award, which requires a score of 4 on at least eight AP tests and an overall average score of 4.

Jiang, who is now a freshman at Yale, said he was “pleasantly surprised” to find out that his school district made the AP District Honor Roll. He said his surprise stems from his observation that while there are many dedicated teachers and students in the district, there are also many students in New Haven public schools who do not take AP exams seriously.

Increased participation in AP exams may be a product of New Haven’s efforts to create a college-going culture, NHPS spokeswoman Abbe Smith said. There is an AP coordinator in each high school who has been working actively to recruit more students for AP courses, she added.

Jiang attributes the success to a “supportive environment” created by teachers, counselors and peers. Jiang said he felt encouraged to take AP classes and so did many of his peers, adding that teachers would stay after school multiple times a week to help students with their coursework. In addition, Jiang said his high school recently began permitting sophomores to take AP exams and allowed juniors to take more than three AP courses, which he believes led to increased AP enrollment.

Jiang, however, said he believes New Haven’s AP program would benefit from increased consistency in writing instruction across classes. Each class stressed different writing techniques and styles, he explained, which made it difficult for him to improve his writing skills.

“At the end of high school, I wasn’t able to take away one set of writing skills that I was really familiar with, so I felt like I had to start back at square one in writing,” Jiang said.

Of the 79 AP Scholar Award winners, 26 were sophomores or juniors and the remaining 53 were seniors.