School districts across the nation have implemented initiatives to expand Advanced Placement course offerings — high-level courses that offer students the opportunity to earn college credit in high school — to groups with limited access to academic resources, including Black, Hispanic, low-income and aspiring first-generation college students. In spring 2013, the state of Washington passed legislation that encourages students who meet a state threshold on state standardized exams or similar tests to enroll in Advanced Placement courses. Michigan, on the other hand, isn’t doing enough to encourage diverse and low-income students to enroll in AP courses. At the district, state and federal levels, more action needs to be taken to encourage a diverse group of students to enroll in these classes as well as make it more economically feasible for them to take AP exams in preparation.
There are a number of barriers that may discourage students from taking AP classes. Many districts mandate AP enrollment requirements, such as teacher recommendations and extremely high test scores, which can discourage the academically underserved. According to a report from The Education Trust, only 6 percent of Black students are enrolled in the AP program, which is is almost half of the 11.7-percent national average of AP participants. Low-income students make up just 5.5 perfect of the participants, and they are are three times less likely to enroll in an AP course than those from higher-income families.
The barriers to entry for AP classes should be lowered. Opponents argue that content may have to be “watered down” because for the benefit of unprepared students. While this sentiment may be true in some cases, research conducted by the College Board challenges this assumption. When analyzing data from 690,000 high-school graduates in 2012, the College Board found that 75 percent of American Indian students, 66 percent of Hispanic students and 72 percent of Black students whose PSAT scores showed that they had the potential to be successful in an AP math course weren’t enrolled. Other studies show that both diverse low-income students and students of color who enroll in AP classes perform well, even when the requirements to take these classes are significantly lowered.
There are benefits to having a more diverse group of students in classroom settings. A University study conducted from 1990 to 1994 states that students who interact with a diverse group of peers in both informal and classroom settings show the greatest “engagement in active thinking, growth in intellectual engagement, and growth in intellectual and academic skills.”
In 2013, Michigan’s AP program participation was lower than the national average. Furthermore, Michigan should look into passing legislation similar to that of Washington’s, lowering the threshold on standardized tests. As of April 2013, educational representatives of Washington have been in favor of the legislation because it has engendered “incredible benefits,” such as an increase in AP exam enrollment for students.
Efforts to make AP tests more affordable for low-income students are lacking. For example, the Michigan Department of Education has fortunately received a federal AP Test Fee Reduction Grant for the past 11 years, but this year the grant has been held up by the federal government — Michigan may not end up acquiring the grant at all. This grant is very important for all students to get credit for college courses and save money, and for those who hadn’t considered it, to make higher education a more realistic prospect. Congress needs to make this issue a priority.
With a combined effort from districts around the University as well as the state and federal government, acceptance into AP classes for a wider range of students of diverse backgrounds can become a reality, and AP exams will become more economically feasible for students. By doing so, students — as well as the classes themselves — will greatly benefit.