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Most Students Who Should Be Taking AP Exams Aren't

More than 60 percent of students who qualify to take an AP exam never do. Guess who's getting left behind?

The number of students taking Advanced Placement exams is up, but according to the latest report from the College Board, a significant numbers of students that should be taking AP tests aren’t. They analyzed the performance of 771,000 PSAT-takers from the class of 2011 and discovered that 478,000 students—over 60 percent—did not take an AP exam even though their test scores indicated they could do well on one. In particular, the College Board found that high scoring students from black, Latino, and Native American backgrounds are "much less likely than their white and Asian peers" to take AP exams.

Eighty percent of black students whose scores indicated that they could have done well in AP classes never enrolled in them, and in the class of 2011 only 9 percent of AP exam-takers were black. By comparison, only 40 percent of Asian students and 60 percent of white students whose scores suggested they should be taking AP classes and exams don’t do so.

Trevor Packer, the College Board’s senior vice president of AP and college readiness, says the problem is that too many students don’t have the "opportunity, encouragement, or motivation to participate."

When I was in high school, I took AP English, math, history, and science classes, because they were the most challenging courses my school offered. However, my parents didn't know what AP classes and exams really were and neither did I. We had no idea that you could even earn college credit for doing well on the exams. My teachers never explicitly explained the AP process to everyone, but I recall them encouraging individual students and giving them exam study tips. I was not one of those students. I was also the only black student in my senior class enrolled in any AP courses.

Indeed, when I asked my AP English teacher if I should sign up to take the AP exam, he told me that it was an unnecessary test, and it was really expensive. It puzzled me that other students were so focused on taking it, but since I didn't need to take it and none of my friends were taking it, I didn't sign up. Now I know how lucky I was to even have access to AP courses. Many students of color don't have AP classes offered at their high schools—they can't take the classes even if they want to, let alone the exams.

It's been years since I graduated from high school, but this latest data reveals that my experience is probably still the norm for too many students. It's too bad that unequal access endures, because research shows that "minority and low-income students who earn a 3 or higher on an AP exam are more likely than their peers" to get good grades in college and graduate within five years. Given the national priority to boost the number of college graduates—and the diversity of the next generation—it's in our best interests to ensure that more students of color take AP exams. If we don't, we're hurting their future and ours.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user radiantradon

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