Despite ongoing criticisms about the racial achievement gap found in Advance Placement exam results, the College Board recently issued its 2008 Annual Report, asserting that steps toward minority academic proficiency are the responsibility of individual school districts rather than the AP test designers. “The College Board is committed to the principle that all students deserve an opportunity to participate in rigorous and academically challenging courses and programs,” writes the CB in its “Equity Policy Statement” (emphasis added). They add that “schools should make every effort to ensure that their AP classes reflect the diversity of their student population.”
The CB maintains that its tests are legitimate, non-racist indicators of academic proficiency because “two decades of research” have demonstrated that AP scores are highly predictive of actual college outcomes, with a grade of 3 or higher on a 5-point scale indicating college-level proficiency. Research has demonstrated that an AP score of 5 corresponds to A level proficiency, whereas students earning 4 or 3 would likely have earned a B or C in college. However, some studies such as the one released by Philip Sadler of Harvard University in 2006 have contradicted this outcome. According to Sadler’s research, the tests had marginal effect on student performance and did not closely correlate with high-level college proficiency. Inside Higher Ed reports that College Board representative Jennifer Topiel contested these results because the study sample “included many who had never taken an AP course and that many of those who had didn’t receive high scores.” “There’s a lot of research that shows the exact opposite of what they’re saying,” Topiel said.
This year the College Board also pointed out that American AP students score higher on international Physics and Calculus tests than the average U.S. student. “Even those students who earned AP Calculus grades of 1 or 2 demonstrated the same level of math achievement as students from the top-performing nation, France,” they wrote. “Even those students who earned AP Physics grades of 1 or 2 were only bested by students from the top two nations, Norway and Sweden,” they continued. In contrast, the average American student did poorly on these tests, with the U.S. ranking last or second-to-last of the 23 countries assessed.
However, if the AP exam outcomes are indicative of college preparedness, minorities—especially African-Americans—continue to face difficult barriers in higher education. According to the 2008 report, African-Americans compose 14% of the national student population yet only 7.4% took AP exams. Of this 7.4%, only 3.3% of test-takers scoring 3 or above in 2007 were from this minority, an insignificant increase from 2.8% in 2002.
The state with the largest equity gap was Mississippi, which has a 47 % African-American student population, yet only 11.5% of its successful exam-taking students (scoring a 3 or above) were African-American. The District of Columbia scored even worse, with an 83.7% African-American student population while only 24.3% of successful test-takers were African-American.
Hawaii was the only state in the union that produced a demographically-proportionate number of African-American students earning 3 or more on the AP exam. In contrast, 14 states eliminated this “equity and excellence gap” for Hispanics in 2007. The same number of states had also eliminated this gap in 2002, but only 10 of theses states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia) managed to keep this score for all three years measured. The District of Columbia eliminated its equity and excellence gap for Latinos in 2002, 2006, and 2007—a stark contrast to the District’s poor performance with African-Americans.
The alleged greater “equity” for Hispanics was met with significant skepticism this year, prompting the CB to release altered Hispanic scores which discounted Latino Spanish language test scores. According to Inside Higher Ed writer Scott Jaschik, the altered measure exposed a “significant gap that is otherwise visible” because the percentage of Latinos participating in the program falls to 7.5% and “the percentage of [Hispanic] students earning at least a 3 on one exam falls the same percentage.
Despite these negative results, the College Board asserts that “With 75 percent of U.S. high school graduates entering college, the nation is steadily democratizing entrance to college.” The 2008 report also insinuated that the poor scores were result of a faulty school curriculum, rather than a biased test. “If we are to succeed in democratizing what really counts—successful college degree completion—the gulf between high school graduation standards and freshman college course requirements must be eliminated,” they write (emphasis added). In other words, the CB believes that students are not adequately being prepared for college. In order to ameliorate this, the CB initiated a rigorous audit of approximately 130,000 teachers’ AP curricula at more than 14,000 high schools in 2007. The CB also has a number of initiatives “designed to support traditionally underserved students,” such as the African-American Student Achievement Initiative, AP Start-up Grants, AP Fellows Program, and the National AP Equity Colloquium.
Bethany Stotts is a Staff Writer at Accuracy in Academia.