This is my first year teaching AP Literature and Composition in my school. It is an exciting opportunity for me, since AP, or Advanced Placement, classes are seen as prestigious classes in which students who do well on the AP test at the end of the year can earn college credit. Teaching these courses is like teaching a college class in a high school setting, something that benefits students greatly. Moreover, teaching this class has taught me more about how to be a better teacher in just one semester than many of my previous years of teaching combined. Needless to say, these courses hold great opportunities for everyone.
Well, everyone who has access to the courses and the tests, that is.
According to a new report released by the College Board, the governing body for all AP courses, students of color are grossly underrepresented when it comes to taking AP tests, with black students being the most underrepresented. According to Colorlines:
Black students were 14.5 percent of the graduating class of 2013 in the U.S., but 9.2 percent of the nation’s AP exam takers… American Indian students were 1 percent of the 2013 U.S. high school graduating class but 0.6 percent of those who took AP exams, while Latino students made up roughly 19 percent of both the graduating class and AP exam takers. Asian American and Pacific Islander students are 5.9 percent of students who graduated from high school in 2013 but 10.7 percent of AP exam takers. White students are 58 percent of those who graduated from high school in 2013 but 56 percent of AP exam takers.
I am extremely fortunate to work in a school that has committed to encouraging all students, particularly students of color, to take AP courses. While some students might not have been in accelerated courses for the duration of their school career or might be lacking in one skill set but excel in others, this does not mean that those students should not be able to take AP-level courses. If the students are willing to put in the extra work and able to keep up with the course load, we accept them into AP courses. However, as you can see from the statistics above, that isn’t always the case. After a semester teaching an AP-level course, I can see clearly some reasons why there is such a disparity in the racial makeup of AP test takers in the country. Here are just a few reasons.
Students who are not enrolled in AP courses can still take AP exams, but without the rigorous preparation the courses provide leading up to the exams themselves, it is very difficult to succeed on those tests. Much of AP coursework focuses on test-taking skills as well as content needed to be successful on the test, so without the course, the test is extremely difficult. When it comes to registration, it’s common to place students where they’ve always been before. If they’ve been in standard-level classes, we tend to keep them there, thinking they aren’t ready for a different challenge. If students are unable to demand they be placed at a certain level, then they can get stuck in the same track throughout their high school careers.
I have several students in my AP class who have opted not to take the exam, and they cite cost as a major factor. Each AP exam fee is $89. If a student is taking several AP classes, that cost can add up quickly. Fortunately, my school subsidizes part of the cost for students in need (and all of the cost for students on the free and reduced lunch program), but not all districts have those resources. If cost is prohibitive, even students in the classes may not be taking the tests.
Students who don’t have a good grasp of Standard English (otherwise known as White English) are often overlooked when it comes to registering for AP classes. A poor command of Standard English doesn’t automatically mean a lack of intelligence or motivation, though sometimes it is perceived that way. Students who grew up speaking different languages or different forms of English are oftentimes not given access to AP-level classes. We should, instead, look at the whole student and his or her work ethic and ability in all areas rather than just their language abilities.
Photo Credit: Renato Ganoza
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