Analysis: How Schools Can Close Disturbing Racial Gaps in Advanced Courses

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Amid back-to-school debates over vaccinations, mask requirements, and the right goal for learning history, the worrying lack of opportunities for many high school students to take the advanced classes they need to be successful at school. university and beyond has unfortunately fallen off the radar of educational policy.

Advanced courses can include the International Baccalaureate, dual enrollment in high school or college, or advanced placement (AP) courses, with AP being the most popular and widely available mechanism. Taking such courses helps students earn college credit while still in high school, gain admission to top colleges, and thrive in the world of work.

Yet a recent report released by the Center for American Progress found that black, native, and rural students were much more likely to attend schools with fewer AP classes than schools attended by their white, Asian, and suburban counterparts.

And even when students have similar access to AP courses, lower percentages of black, indigenous and rural students enroll in and pass the courses. In high schools offering 18 or more AP courses, white students taking at least one AP exam had an average pass rate of 72%. For black students under these circumstances, the average pass rate was 42 percent. Latino students do not experience the same access gaps as other ethnic and racial groups, but they have lower enrollment and completion rates.

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This reflects what many educators and advocates already understand: equitable access and success in advanced courses requires more than availability, and there are policy investments that schools and districts can leverage to help students succeed in schools. advanced courses.

The first is to create a national database of student participation and performance in advanced courses (including dual enrollment courses offered at local universities), broken down by race. Currently, there is no comprehensive national data set for several dual listing options, and each state’s bulletins vary widely in what is made public.

Much of the research on advanced courses, by default, is limited to AP attendance and performance because that is the only data that is easily aggregated, transparent, and comparable across all 50 states and Washington, DC. Collecting rights data should also reflect IB participation and performance and dual enrollment.

Another crucial investment is to remove barriers to entry to PA and other advanced courses. Bias and subjective controls tend to creep into the advanced course registration process by over-relying on teacher credentials or counselor recommendations. This often results in students being overlooked for enrollment in gifted and talented programs at the elementary school level or AP classes at the high school level.

Districts have successfully tackled this through the use of universal screening for gifted and talented programs and automatic enrollment or academic acceleration policies for AP courses. Automatic enrollment policies, recently enacted in several states, require that students who meet benchmark proficiency levels on statewide exams be automatically enrolled in the next highest available class, including advanced courses, although they can withdraw.

In addition to ensuring that students are properly identified for enrollment in advanced courses, it is important to ensure that students are prepared to handle course content and requirements. This requires regular communication and lesson planning between elementary, middle and secondary school educators to define common vocabulary and pedagogical concepts, known as vertical collaboration.

In addition, it is essential to support students and teachers during their experiences in advanced courses. One strategy adopted by many states and districts is to reduce or eliminate the fees associated with AP or IB exams. Additionally, some schools have found success in creating mentoring programs, where junior and senior AP students counsel and mentor younger high school students to ensure they are preparing for success.

Finally, both teachers and students benefit enormously from the creation of regional and national peer learning communities. It can take different forms, but usually involves time outside of the regular school day where students and teachers can hone their skills, learn from the experts, and get real-time feedback on teaching and learning.

None of these strategies alone can overcome the stubborn and persistent inequalities in the participation and success of AP courses. But when done together and with dedicated leadership, they can help expand access and success in advanced courses.

This article originally appeared at


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