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More Low-Income Students Taking AP Classes

But Participation Among Black Students Still Lags, Report Finds
By Catherine Gewertz — February 04, 2009 3 min read
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More students from low-income families are taking and passing Advanced Placement tests, but non-Asian minority students—particularly African-Americans—are still underrepresented, according to a report on the tests of college-level material released last week.

The fifth annual report on AP scores was released Feb. 4 by the College Board, the New York City-based nonprofit organization that sponsors the program. In the graduating class of 2008, it shows, 17 percent of the students who took the exams were from low-income families, up from 16.2 percent in the class of 2007 and 11.6 percent in the class of 2003.

“Major initiatives are needed to ensure adequate preparation of students in middle school [and] 9th and 10th grades so that all students will have an equitable chance at success when they go on to take AP courses and exams later in high school,” the report said.

Twenty-five percent of the members of the class of 2008 took an ap exam some time during high school, the report says, compared with 19 percent in the class of 2003. The proportion passing AP tests was 15.2 percent, up from 14.4 percent in 2007.

The graduating class of 2008 had 61,191 more AP test-takers than did the previous graduating class, a development many educators laud because it suggests wider access to challenging coursework and more substantial preparation for college.

In the previous four years, as the number of test-takers rose, the proportion of tests earning a passing grade slid from about 60 percent to 57 percent. But for the class of 2008, it stayed at 57 percent, even as more students took the exams, the data show.

Making Gains

Low-income students made up 13.4 percent of those receiving a passing score—a 3 or higher on a 5-point scale—compared with 13.1 percent the previous year and 9.8 percent in the class of 2003, the College Board figures show.

Minority participation in the program showed gains among Latino students and, to a lesser extent, black students. In the class of 2007, 14 percent of the test-takers were Hispanic. By 2008, 14.8 percent were Hispanic, which is close to proportionate since that group makes up 15.4 percent of the general student population.

Black students were 7.8 percent of the number of test-takers in 2008, compared with 7.4 percent in 2007. They are far more underrepresented on the exams, however, the report says, since blacks account for 14.4 percent of students.

The proportions of white, Asian, and Native American students taking AP exams were almost unchanged.

Students of Asian heritage had the highest mean score, 3.09, on the tests in all 37 subjects combined. The national mean was 2.83. White students turned in a mean score of 2.97; African-American students, 1.91; and Native Americans, 2.40. Latino students were divided into three subgroups: Mexican or Mexican-American (2.37), Puerto Rican (2.39), and other Hispanic (2.45).

In a conference call with reporters, Trevor Packer, the College Board vice president who oversees the AP program, said the gaps show that some minority students are “not always receiving adequate preparation for the rigors of college-level coursework.”

States with large Hispanic populations—such as California, Florida, and Texas—are starting to see more AP participation by Hispanic students because those states have been focusing on encouraging them to take the courses and tests for several years, he said, while states with large African-American populations have begun that work more recently.

More Teachers Trained

Mr. Packer attributed the increased rates of participation by low-income students in part to the training of more teachers to teach AP courses, through programs such as the College Board’s summer training scholarships. States and districts are also using federal grants from the U.S. Department of Education’s AP Incentive Program to build the low-income AP population by expanding teacher training and offering more skill building for students.

David Wakelyn, who oversees the National Governors Association’s initiative to expand access to the ap program in six states, said some states, such as Louisiana, Missouri, and North Dakota, need to build opportunity to take AP classes.

The good news, he said, is that “the answers are there” in states such as Maryland, which had the largest share of students in the class of 2008 passing AP tests (23.4 percent), and Maine and Vermont, which produced the strongest one-year and five-year gains, respectively, in their percentages of students passing the exams.

A link to “AP Report to the Nation” is supplied at edweek.org/links.
A version of this article appeared in the February 11, 2009 edition of Education Week as More Low-Income Pupils Taking AP Classes, Board Says

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