Report: Blacks less likely to take, pass AP exams

By Alissa Groeninger

An annual report released by the College Board states that black students are still less likely than all other racial groups to take and pass Advanced Placement exams, despite progress in closing the gap.

The popularity of Advanced Placement tests has increased in recent years, and more than 15 percent of the 3 million students who graduated from public high schools in 2008 passed at least one Advanced Placement exam.

“The most important thing in admissions is the rigor of the high school (coursework),” said Emily Ward, undergraduate admissions counselor at the University, saying the Admissions Office likes to see students who choose that curriculum if it’s available to them.

Despite the increase in students taking the exams, the College Board has found that black students are less likely than white, Hispanic and Asian students to take and pass an exam.

Education psychology professor Steven Aragon said he was surprised that educators have been able to close the achievement gap for Hispanic and Native American students but not for black students.

“In other related types of…educational achievement, Native Americans have historically lagged (behind their peers),” Aragon said. “It was surprising to see that we have closed that gap with the other two (groups) but not with African Americans.”

Aragon said one reason black students are less likely to take and pass AP exams is because educators have not successfully convinced these students of the importance of higher education.

He said teachers have helped Hispanic and Native American students see their potential and tie in the importance of education back to their communities.

“(They) tie that connection of what they’re learning in schools back to make their culture better,” Aragon said.

Champaign Unit 4 School District faced lawsuits in 1996 and 2002, in part due to the lack of black students in higher level courses, such as Advanced Placement classes.

During the 2005-06 school year the district’s two high schools had 304 black students in Advanced Placement courses. This year, there are 382 black students taking Advanced Placement courses.

Carol Ashley, lawyer for the students who sued the district, said Unit 4 was not using the right measures to determine who should be in higher-level courses, and thus, minorities ended up being underrepresented.

Judy Wiegand, director of secondary curriculum and professional development for the district, said that for the past six years, the district has focused on finding students who have the potential to do well in honors and Advanced Placement courses.

To help students succeed in these classes, the Urbana district works with families, provides tutoring for students and has developed a support team of administrators, counselors and teachers.

“(We) collaborate around student performance,” Wiegand said.

Aragon said that schools need to help black students, and Hispanics and Native Americans in states that have yet to close the achievement gap, see the importance of college.

He said schools need to provide students with role models and constant discussion, in addition to encouraging parents to see the significance of AP programs, as well as higher education.

Studying what successful schools have done can help educators who need to work to close the gaps between racial groups.

“It’s helping students to recognize the value, the benefits, the importance of higher education,” he said. “Multiple players are taking part in this initiative and helping students to see the value.”