The AP/IB challenge gap

Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses could help close the “high-end achievement gap” —  if more low-income, black and Latino students take these rigorous courses, concludes Finding America’s Missing AP and IB Students. The report is by the Education Trust and Equal Opportunity Schools.

Low-income students are one-third as likely to enroll in AP as their middle and high-income classmates. While 25.1 percent of Asian-American students take at least one AP course, that drops to 11.9 percent for whites, 9 percent for Latinos and 6 percent for blacks.

Ninety-one percent of public high school students attend schools that offer AP courses.

. . .  preparation prior to high school is part of the problem, and the nation’s schools need to work hard on that. But a recent analysis of PSAT scores by the College Board suggests there are far more students who have the potential to be successful, but are not enrolling. The College Board found that 72 percent of black students and 66 percent of Hispanic students whose PSAT scores suggested they had the potential to be successful in an AP math course, as well as 69 percent of black students and 65 percent of Hispanic students whose scores suggested they had the potential to be successful in an AP science course, were left out of the program.

San Jose Unified has doubled AP participation rates for under-represented subgroups, the report finds.

In Washington state, the Federal Way went beyond open access to AP and IB courses. Now  automatically enroll students who scored proficient or better on the state exam are enrolled automatically in AP or IB.

Teachers found that some of the new AP/IB students didn’t need additional supports to be successful in AP/IB — they had been ready all along — but others did. Schools relied on the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program that was already in place . . . the district extended instructional coaching support to ensure teachers were capable of meeting the demands of their new classes, offering techniques and strategies for differentiating lessons to reach all their students.

The Road to Equity: Expanding AP Access and Success for African-American Students, a new report by the Broad Foundation, looks at six urban districts where more black students are passing AP exams.

About Joanne


  1. “Preparation prior to HS is part of the problem” is absolutely true. However, schools are making the problem worse through their curriculum choices and instructional methods. Curricula like Everyday Math and Readers’/Writers’ Workshop are seriously flawed and group work and discovery learning are both ineffective and inefficient (I’ve seen no evidence that the ed world has any awareness of the concept of efficiency). Current insistence on heterogeneous grouping, including full inclusion, also works to deny capable, motivated students the appropriate challenges. (it also denies extra time and help to kids who need it, of course) Schools are essentially outsourcing actual education to those parents who are (1) aware of the school’s deficiencies and (2) can provide the afterschooling necessary for their kids to acquire essential knowledge and skills, either by themselves, or from tutors, Kumon, online resources etc.
    No matter how capable or motivated, kids whose parents can’t provide that, just don’t get it at all. This results in idiocies like Prince George’s County, MD (suburban DC, the first majority-black suburban county in the country) requiring at least one AP test for graduation. A regular commenter on the WaPo’s education section says that AP English is the default placement, and his classes are routinely filled with kids reading and writing at a 5th-7th-grade level; so the “AP” is a fantasy. The class really isn’t even HS level, let alone honors or AP. The rot starts in kindergarten and that’s where radical changes need to happen.

  2. tim-10-ber says:

    Confused…don’t we want to improve the reputation of AP and keep IB strong? So…while we want more kids to take these classes don’t the kids need to be well prepared and probably teacher recommended and the teachers be very well trained and qualified (successful for those already teaching) to teach these classes? More through put is good but what is the real outcome and for whom is it important? If it is to make the school look good, well, we already know rankings don’t mean much. Is it for the kids then the quality of the program, teachers and preparedness for the course should be the priority…for the kids.

  3. Mark Roulo says:

    By careful use of percentages and avoiding raw numbers, this can be made to look more hopeful than it probably is.


    For the 4 tests that make up AP math (Stats, Calc AB and BC and Computer Science), the best raw numbers on black participation rates seem to be these:
    Test/Taking/Passing (3+ score)

    Calc BC / 1,183 / 621
    CS AB / 57 / 27
    Calc AB / 8,234 / 2,088
    Statistics / 4,000 / 863


    Assuming no overlap in the test taking, we have about 3,500 kids passing one of these tests in some recent year. The claim seems to be that we are missing ~75% of those that might pass (60% chance of 3+) and implies that there are an additional ~10,000 kids who might get 3+ scores.


    The number of black high school seniors in the US is about 440,000, so another way of looking at this is:
    *) Out of 440,000 black high school seniors, about 14,000 took an AP math course.
    *) Out of this 14,000, about 3,500 passed (score 3+).
    *) The College board believes that there is another 10,000 who *could* pass if they took one of these tests.


    My guess is that similar numbers hold for the hispanic population.


    Most of my numbers taken from the article “More Blacks Are Competing in Advanced Placement Programs, But the Racial Scoring Gap Is Widening” from “The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education”

  4. Genevieve says:

    I believe that there are many more students that could get a three on an AP test. I doubt that there are many more students that could score a four or five. I worry that mindlessly changing policies could hurt students with the potential to score a five.
    Given the incredibly low standards of many high school general classes, I support increasing enrollment in AP and IB. I think that having the external test prevents dumbing down of material. However something ,perhaps separate sections, needs to be done so that students likely to score a 2 or 3 receive the instruction they need as well as students that are likely to score a four or five.

    • Genivieve, the only issue with the scoring is that in many cases, colleges will only award credit in Calc I for a AP grade of 4 or 5. Some will only award credit in AP chem/physics for a score of 4 or 5, almost all colleges award English 101 credit for a AP score of 3 or higher.

      It might be that many students can get a score of 3 on the AP exam, but in reality, many colleges have found that a score of 3 ‘just doesn’t cut it anymore’ when the student takes Calc II or 2nd semester chemistry/physics.

      • Genevieve says:

        Right. That is my concern. What if increasing the pool of people that take AP means the class has to be taught at a lower level. This could lead to people that should get a five instead getting a three because of lack of preparation.
        I was in an AP class twelve years ago where only three people took the test. The scores were lower than for classes where the majority of students took the test. It was a history class and my class wasn’t taught how to write dbq essays. Since so few students were taking the test it wasn’t seen as important.

  5. Crimson Wife says:

    Are the black and Hispanic students truly left out of AP/IB classes, as in they wanted to enroll but were prevented from doing so? Or are they just not interested in signing up in the first place?

    White and Asian students with decent test scores face much stiffer competition to get into college than black and Hispanic students with decent test scores. So there is greater incentive for the whites and Asians to sign up for the harder courses.

    • In the late 80s-early-90s, the black and Hispanic kids (same SES status as the white/Asians – actuallly higher SES status than some of the Asians) at my older kids’ high-performing HS deliberately avoided the many-APs schedule of the whites and Asians. Since all APs had honors prereqs and were taught at a real college level, they opted to do the honors classes only. A number of my kids’ friends admitted that they knew they’d be admitted without the APs, so chose the easier route. AA defenders don’t want to talk about that side of the issue.

  6. This gets into the politics of the honors program.In a nutshell, there are not enough seats for all academically and politically qualified students. It’s quite common here for a child to be denied a seat, yet be qualified for JHU-CTY’s AP courses.