I gave a presentation on Advanced Placement (AP) courses to perspective families last Thursday on the campus of Houston Christian. In preparation for my talk, I put together a power point to showcase the many great things our faculty members have done with the 15 plus AP courses offered. Many students take AP courses in hopes of better preparing their application for college. According to the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, that might not be a bad idea. Here is how they weigh what is important:
Courses selected 82%
SAT Scores 46%
Class Rank 42%
Overall Grades 39%
Work/School Activity 6%
Still, as I noted in a blog post before, minority students continue to face long odds when it comes to academic and college success.
Due to much of my academic work over the past 8 years of work with the College Board and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s AP Center, I have come to understand the complex nature of race, schools, and demanding courses. As a so-called expert in my area and one who is very active in areas dealing with race and curriculum, I have drawn a number of conclusions about the plight of under-prepared minority students. For one, many come from communities in which academic work has not always been valued. This is complex in that minority students, especially those coming from black families, are often still dealing with past institutional problems linked to Jim Crow. But a larger problem is working past the concept of instant gratification. For many Americans, especially blacks growing up in communities that look to those who used musical or athletic skills to get rich quick, academics can be the long road.
There is much debate among academics about whether AP courses are truly college-level, with studies regularly coming out that either question the program or praise it. But even AP skeptics acknowledge that the program is popular with students and parents, that admissions offices value it as an indicator of rigor in instruction, and that AP courses are frequently among the most challenging in high schools. As such, who takes AP matters — and educators have increasingly focused on data from the AP program to see whether the program’s emphasis in admissions is likely to hurt minority applicants and what the participation rates say about the preparation of a diverse pool of students for admission to top colleges.
Students of color (SOC) face challenges that many of their white counterparts will never experience. For one, black students disappear in the more advanced courses. In high school, students of color are thought to be ill prepared to enroll in courses such as AP English, AP European History, or AP Calculus. Teachers, many who draw false conclusions, often assume that students of color have other non-academic interest. I think this is true for many, but not just SOC. In ten years of teaching, I have had a total of ten SOC. I am not sure Advanced Placement courses help or hurt this matter. Although high school faculty members are teaching college (usually first or second year) courses, many tend to want students who will do well on the exam; in many ways I am the same way; but, I do take risks with students; I think it is important that many experience more than the typical high school level curriculum.