Louisiana high school students showed a 20 percent hike in the number of tests that produce college credit through an exam called Advanced Placement, state officials announced Wednesday morning.

While still among the lowest in the nation, qualifying scores rose to 7,703 this year compared with 6,410 last year.

The number has risen by 89 percent since 2012, officials said.

“In many ways, this is the most significant evidence that we have seen so far that when you raise expectations for Louisiana kids, they show they are just as smart and just as capable as any in the country,” state Superintendent of Education John White told reporters.

The tests can pave the way for college credit for students who score at least a 3 on an exam with a range of 1 to 5.

Backers say the classes prepare students for college, boost chances they will continue beyond their freshman year and improve chances for graduation.

Louisiana has long been near the bottom nationally in the number of public school students who earn college credit.

Where the state ranks nationally now is unclear.

The College Board, which oversees the exams, will release results from the AP and two other tests in September.

“I assume we will still be near the lower end but the progress will be evident,” White said.

In 2011 state education leaders launched a five-year plan for high school students to reach the national average, which was 19.5 percent last year for students who scored a 3 or higher on the tests.

In another recent change, the state now pays for the tests for students who meet income rules.

The state also provides training for teachers and administrators, another issue that officials said for years held down state success in AP classes.

A total of 325 educators statewide took part in AP training this summer.

AP course enrollments in Louisiana rose to 33,231 this year compared with 28,009 in 2014.

Those who scored a 3 or higher increased to 32 percent this year from 30 percent last year.

The state, as part of its push to widen the appeal of AP classes, links the results to annual school accountability scores.

Students who earn a 3 or higher collect 150 points for the school’s graduation index, which helps shape the letter grade issued by the state.

The state Department of Education said black students who produced qualifying scores on the AP exam went up 30 percent, to 920.

In Ascension Parish, 369 of 915 students who took the tests achieved qualifying scores; 40 percent; East Baton Rouge, 452 of 954, 47 percent; Livingston, 368 of 990, 37 percent; St. Tammany, 391 of 656, 60 percent; Jefferson, 288 of 1,311, 22 percent; non-RSD in Orleans Parish, 685 of 1,390, 49 percent; Central, 32 of 98, 33 percent and Zachary, 139 of 182, 76 percent.

Officials of the Ascension Parish school system announced earlier this week that students taking AP exams rose by 43 percent in the past two years and those earning college credit shot up 62 percent.

Among individual schools, Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans topped the list, with 764 of 891 tests resulting in scores of 3 or higher — 86 percent.

Baton Rouge Magnet High School was second with 744 of 997 — 75 percent.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.the advocate.com/politicsblog/.