Minority Rates Rise in Advanced Placement Testing

By Lynn Olson — January 11, 1989 3 min read

New York City--A record number of minority high-school students took Advanced Placement tests in 1988, according to statistics compiled by the College Board.

The data, released here in December, show that nearly 52,000 minority students took at least one of the examinations in May 1988, more than double the number five years ago.

In addition, minority students’ passing rates on the exams increased by 34 percent in 1987-88--triple the rate of improvement for other participants.

The tests are scored on a scale of 1 to 5. A grade of 3 or above generally enables a student to qualify for college credit or assignment to advanced college courses.

The growing participation of minority students in the ap program can be attributed in part to the rapid expansion of the program over all, officials say. The 8,247 high schools that offered ap courses and exams last year represented an increase of 42 percent in five years.

In addition, local educators, the College Board, and foundation officers have undertaken aggressive efforts in recent years to get more minority and disadvantaged students involved in the program.

For example, the Andrew W. Mel4lon Foundation gave the College Board $450,000 to provide stipends for potential ap teachers from predominantly poor or minority schools that would enable them to participate in ap training programs. The arco Foundation provided a similar, though smaller, grant.

“Educators have told us ap’s impact on the secondary-school curriculum is most obvious in schools with large minority enrollments,” said Donald M. Stewart, president of the College Board.

When the program began in 1955, he noted, it was intended primarily to provide “academic excellence” for a small group of “elite” students. But “it has become a program of academic opportunity as well,” he said.

Mr. Stewart’s claims were second8ed by ap teachers from several predominantly minority high schools, who spoke here at a press briefing.

Raul Rodriguez, who teaches ap Spanish courses at Xavier High School--a predominantly Hispanic private school in Brooklyn, N.Y.--said the program enables minority students to overcome feelings of inferiority.

“Our Hispanic students found a way of excelling--of having something to show,” he said. “This was a tremendous boost to their ego. For some of them, it was the first honors course they were going to be in.’'

And Henry Gradillas, former principal of Garfield High School in Los Angeles, said the ap program helped improve the school’s entire curriculum.

Under his guidance, for example, the high school established a core curriculum to help increase the number of students who were prepared to take ap courses.

In 1981-82, only 18 Garfield students took the exams, according to Mr. Gradillas. By 1986-87, he said, 600 of the school’s 3,600 students were enrolled in ap courses, and 360 exams were given.

The school has attracted national attention for the success of Jaime Escalante, a Garfield mathematics teacher, in motivating Hispanic students to take ap math courses. (See book excerpt, page 32.)

“No high school, no secondary school in the nation, has the right to deprive parents and students of an ap program,” argued Mr. Gradillas, who has accepted a new job with the California department of education to help improve school-based decisionmaking practices.

In 1988, the College Board reported, minority students represented 19.5 percent of all U.S. students who took the examinations.

Though more than half of the minority students who participated in the ap program this past year were Asian Americans, board officials note, the number of black and Hispanic participants has increased markedly.

According to the board’s data, California, New York, and Florida led the nation in the numbers of qualifying ap grades earned by blacks and Hispanics last year. Together, these states produced more than half of the nation’s qualifying ap grades for those two groups.

A total of 13 states accounted for 84 percent of all qualifying ap scores earned by black and Hispanic students, the board reported. The 10 other states with a large number of qualifying grades for minority students were: Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.

The ap program offers 27 college-level examinations, which high-school students usually take in the spring, after completing special courses. College and school instructors collaborate to develop ap course descriptions and tests, grade the tests, and conduct training workshops and institutes for teachers and administrators.

A version of this article appeared in the January 11, 1989 edition of Education Week as Minority Rates Rise in Advanced Placement Testing