More Tennessee students are getting a taste of college-level work in high school — something officials hope will help more of them reach real college classes.

Nearly 30,000 students took at least one Advanced Placement exam last year, an increase of nearly 9 percent over the previous year, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced Tuesday. The state also saw an uptick in the number of students passing an exam, with 3,700 more students scoring a 3 or higher.

Advanced Placement classes offer students the ability to take challenging courses and earn college credits based on their performance on the national AP exam. At schools where those classes are offered, they often are considered necessary for admission into elite, four-year institutions.

Historically, Tennessee’s advanced course offerings have lagged. According to a 2014 report, only 19 percent of Tennessee seniors took at least one AP exam before graduation, compared to 33 percent nationwide. Only 10 percent of Tennessee’s students passed one of the exams.

And access to AP classes and other courses that can lead to college credit, like International Baccalaureate classes, hews closely to socioeconomic divides. For example, in Nashville, students at the more affluent Hume-Fogg Academic High School took nearly 1,500 exams in 26 AP subjects, while students at Hunters Lane High School, where most students poor, took only 30 exams in three subjects.

McQueen has identified increased access to such courses as a top priority that is key to getting more Tennessee students into college and better jobs. Research backs her up: Students who take advanced courses early on are more likely to enroll in college and reach graduation.

“To ensure their success in college and their future careers, all students in Tennessee need to have access to rigorous and relevant early postsecondary opportunities and AP course expansion is a key component to this work,” McQueen said in a statement.