California Students Fare Well in AP Exams

Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times, February 14, 2008

California public school students continued to outperform their peers in most states on Advanced Placement tests last year, and the state’s huge population of Latino students was a particular bright spot, according to reports issued by the College Board on Wednesday. But the state’s overall performance slipped slightly from the previous year, and African American students performed dismally compared with their counterparts of other races.

A report on national AP results “reveals a true and startling lack of equity,” conceded Trevor Packer, a vice president of the College Board, which runs the Advanced Placement program as well as the SAT test. “What we can see is that African American students in particular are not receiving encouragement and support to enroll in AP classes.” Those who do are far less likely to succeed than students of other races.

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The program has become controversial in recent years, however, for two very different reasons. Some critics have complained that AP classes are inequitably distributed, with far more offerings in affluent, suburban schools than in the inner city. At the same time, some elite private schools have dropped AP classes out of concern that they rely too heavily on rote learning. Still, they remain popular in many schools, and are regarded as a virtual requirement for most students planning to apply to four-year universities.

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Latino students, who lag in many academic assessments, showed surprising strength in AP classes. In large part, that was because many Spanish-speaking students excel in AP Spanish courses. In California, where Latino students account for 37% of all public school pupils, they made up 30.7% of the students who scored three or better in an Advanced Placement exam. However, if Spanish-language classes are removed from the list, that figure drops to 16.1%, according to Sue Landers, director of program development for the College Board.

That still represents a measure of success by a large number of students. “I think it is something to be applauded,” Landers said.

Asian students made up a much larger chunk of successful AP students than they did of the overall population, and white students lagged slightly. {snip}

{snip} “You can’t just drop a student into college-level courses in high school without laying the groundwork,” College Board President Gaston Caperton said in announcing the results.

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