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In Some States AP Course Access and Scores Improve for Hispanics, But Not Blacks

Despite the strides made by educators and school districts to provide underrepresented students access to Advanced Placement courses, known predictors of college success, African-Americans lag behind their White counterparts in AP course enrollment and success, the College Board reveals in its annual AP Report to the Nation.

While there are more minority students entering AP classrooms, significant gaps in equity and excellence remain, the College Board reports.

“An analysis of the students sitting in the AP classrooms compared to students sitting in non-AP classrooms reveals a true and startling lack of equity,” says Trevor Packer, vice president of the AP program at the College Board. “We can see that African-American students, in particular, are not receiving the encouragement and support to enroll in AP classes.”

According to the report, Black students comprise just 7.4 percent of students who participate in taking AP tests, even though they account for 14 percent of all students at their high schools. There was little discrepancy between AP exam enrollment rates and overall enrollment rates for Hispanic and White students, while Asian American students represented a disproportionately higher number of AP exam enrollees.

While several states including Florida, Georgia, Maryland and Oklahoma have been able to close the equity gap for Hispanic students, no state with large numbers of African-American or American Indian students has yet to close the gap, the report says.

In Mississippi, one of the leading states for African-American AP success, the percentage of African-American students in the AP cohort scoring three or higher on at least one AP exam has steadily increased from 8.9 percent in 2002 to 11.5 percent in 2007. In an effort to expand access to AP courses, the state requires high schools to offer AP courses and requires AP teacher training.

“More students from varied backgrounds are accomplishing their AP goals, but we can’t afford to believe equity has been achieved until demographics of successful AP participation and performance are identical to the demographics of the overall student population,” says College Board President Gaston Caperton.

State-based initiatives are key in closing the success gap between underrepresented students and their White counterparts, the report highlights. Florida’s Partnership for Minority and Underrepresented Student Achievement program has produced outstanding results.

Mayra Irizarry, an AP Calculus teacher at Cypress Bay High School in Florida, notes, “We are working really hard on the pre-AP strategies to get our middle school students prepared so that when they get to high school they are prepared and motivated to take the exam.”

Illinois has enacted the College and Career Success for All Students Program, which offers competitive grants to school districts emphasizing training for AP teachers, counselors and principals.

Nationally, a record 15.2 percent of public school students in the class of 2007 received a passing grade of three or higher on a college-level AP test, up from 11.7 percent for the class of 2002.

New York public schools had the highest rate of 2007 graduates who passed an AP test, 23.4 percent. Other states included in the top 10 are: Maryland, Virginia, Florida, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, California, Utah and Colorado.

Earning a three or higher out of a possible five on an AP exam is one of the best predictors of college performance, with AP students earning better grades in college and graduating from college at higher rates than their peers in controlled groups, according to recent reports from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, the National Center for Educational Accountability and the University of Texas at Austin.

“Students that have taken an AP course and scored three or better on AP exams are graduating much more quickly and at higher rates than their peers,” says Packer.

–Michelle J. Nealy

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