College-Prep Gap Remains for Black Students

Although the number of Black students taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses in preparation for college is up, inequalities persist. Which other group is lagging? Read the results of the College Board's new AP report here.

The educational report "The 6th Annual AP Report to the Nation" shows an increased number of public high-school students, including Black and Latinos, participating in the rigorous, college-level Advanced Placement (AP) courses this year compared with the past. But Black and American Indian academic success is lagging other groups'.

"Disparity still exists," says Trevor Packer, vice president of the AP program at the College Board, a membership-based nonprofit that published the report. "We need to ensure that all students are provided with the kind of academic experiences that can prepare them for the rigors of AP and college."

Nationwide, 15.9 percent of all public-school students from the class of 2009 scored a 3 or higher on an AP exam, versus 15.2 percent in 2008 and 12.7 in 2004. This critical score indicates a student's learning level and his or her likelihood to succeed in college. In addition, AP students are much more likely to earn a bachelor's degree in four years than their counterparts, reducing costs and giving them a jumpstart on their careers.

"But true equity is not achieved until the demographics of AP participation and performance reflect the demographics of the nation," the authors write.

In a webinar/conference call last week, Packer attributed a "vertical curriculum" that includes middle-school prep and state public-policy incentives for some of the increased success. Maryland, for instance, has the greatest percentage of seniors scoring 3 or higher on AP exams: 24.8 percent. Parker also points to an emphasis on the professional development of teachers as one of the keys to helping students from some traditionally underrepresented groups gain greater success.

"The demographics of our high-school class of 2009 versus the population of Latino and white students remain representative. Asians are overrepresented," he says. "But Black and American Indian students are underrepresented in AP classrooms."

Here's a breakdown of demographic and geographic results:

  • While Blacks represent 14.5 percent of the 2009 graduating class, the percentage of Black students who took the AP exam was only 8.2 percent, up from 7.8 percent in 2008.

  • In comparison, 15.9 percent of the graduating class is Latino, but 15.5 percent of Latinos took the exam and 14.3 percent scored 3 or higher on the exam.

  • American Indian students fared the worst, with the percentage of American Indian students who scored 3 or higher remaining the same (0.4 percent) for the past five years. American Indian students represent 1.2 percent of seniors and 0.6 percent took the exam.

  • More low-income students are participating, with 18.9 percent of AP examinees from low-income households this year, compared with 17 percent for the class of 2008 and 13.7 for the class of 2004.

  • The state with the greatest expansion of AP exam scores of 3 or higher over the past five years was Virginia (a 5.8 percent change), followed by Maryland, Georgia and Maine (5.4 percent change) and Colorado, Vermont and Florida (5 percent change).

  • The states with the greatest percentage of seniors scoring 3 or higher on an AP exam after Maryland are New York (23.8 percent), Virginia (22.9), Massachusetts (22.1 percent) and Florida (21.3 percent).

"Florida is the leading example that incentives…work," adds Packer. "No other state comes closer; it jumps off the page."

In what schools are traditionally underrepresented students excelling? The AP Report identifies 15 schools in seven states. Here's a list of schools with the largest number of students experiencing success in AP courses.

The report also points to two initiatives that have helped close achievement gaps: The National Governors Association's Advanced Placement Expansion Project and The National Math and Science Initiative's Training and Incentive Program.

Nationwide, public high-school students can take AP classes in 33 subjects, ranging from art history to French to microeconomics. The AP Report to the Nation was first published in 2005; AP exam administration began in 1997.

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