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AP Participation and Success Up — But Far to Go for Students of Color
The College Board’s 9th Annual AP Report to the Nation, released this week, found that more high school graduates are participating and succeeding in Advanced Placement courses and exams than ever before. But the report also found that more than 300,000 students — including many Latino and African-American students — who are academically prepared and have the potential to succeed in AP are graduating from high school without having participated in the program.
It is encouraging that more graduates were taking and succeeding in AP courses in 2012 than in 2002. The test-taking population has doubled since 2002, and more students passed AP exams in 2012 than even took exams 10 years before. But far too many students of color are not being given the opportunity to enter AP courses that could have long-term benefits for them.
One hypothesis pertaining to these inequities in AP access is the lower availability of a variety of AP courses in schools that serve mostly low-income students. But that theory only explains one piece of the AP equity challenge, because when AP courses are in fact available, low-income students and students of color who have demonstrated readiness for AP are much less likely than their white and Asian peers within the same schools to access the AP program.
Though challenges remain, the report cited some progress to close gaps in AP participation and success among underserved minority and low-income students. A few states with small black populations — Hawaii, South Dakota, and Iowa — have eliminated AP access gaps between black and white students, but none have closed success gaps. A number of states — Florida, the District of Columbia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia — have eliminated both access and success gaps between Hispanic and white students. Overall, 30 states made some progress for black/African-American students and 17 states and the District of Columbia made some progress for Hispanic students over the past year in closing both AP participation and success gaps.
Similarly, low-income graduates are making strides in participation, accounting for 26.6 percent of those who took at least one AP exam in the class of 2012, up from 11.5 percent in 2003. More than 250,000 low-income graduates in the class of 2012 also took at least one AP exam during high school, more than four times as many as in 2003.
A rigorous high school preparation is necessary to prepare students for college and the workforce. While the report shows progress, there is still a long road ahead to ensure that all students have access to the courses that will provide them with the skills and critical knowledge to prepare them for the future.