Pilot Program Aims to Level the Advanced Placement Playing Field for Low-Income Students

Posted by Liz Dwyer

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With college tuition skyrocketing, one good way for students to cut costs is to earn college credit through Advanced Placement courses and exams in high school. But not all schools offer the same number of AP classes, and poor kids of color tend to have the least access.

In an effort to remedy this inequity, the College Board, which administers AP exams, is launching the California AP Potential Expansion, a pilot program that will bring AP courses to 200 under-served high schools across the Golden State. Teachers will participate in an intensive summer training institute and receive ongoing professional development. Participating schools—which must commit to offering at least one new AP course for each of three years—will also receive funding for textbooks and course materials through nonprofit partnerships. The program will identify what the College Board calls "diamond-in-the-rough" students who might develop their potential in AP classes.

The CAPE effort comes after multiple studies have shown that low-income students of color are less likely to take an AP exam than their more affluent white counterparts. Trevor Packer, senior vice president for Advanced Placement and college readiness at the College Board says that 2011 PSAT scores show that “over 168,000 students have the potential to succeed in at least one AP course” but their schools don't give them the chance. Just 19 percent of California students ever take an AP class.

The difference in opportunities is easy to see in the Los Angeles area. Nearly 70 percent of the 2,400 students attending Compton High School qualify for reduced or free lunch, and only 10 percent take at least one AP course. Just 20 minutes away, 28 percent of the 2,400 students at Manhattan Beach's Mira Loma High School—where only 4 percent of students are low-income—take at least one AP class.

The College Board plans to evaluate the effectiveness of the program starting in 2015. If it succeeds in boosting the number of students earning AP credit and getting a jump on college, the College Board says they’ll consider spreading it to other states.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user America Redefined