Students of color remain underrepresented in college prep classes

Despite legislative efforts in recent years to increase access to and participation in advanced placement courses in high schools throughout California, black and Latino students continue to be underrepresented in college credit-bearing classes — even when they attend schools that offer an array of AP course options.

A new report from The Education Trust finds that inequities exist nationally largely due to schools that serve mostly black and Latino students not enrolling as many students in advanced classes as those that serve fewer black and Latino students; and racially diverse schools denying black and Latino students access to those courses.

For its part, California would need to enroll an additional 37 black students in AP courses for every 100 black students statewide to achieve fair representation, according to a data tool from The Education Trust. The state’s schools would need to enroll an additional 21 Latino students for every 100 Latino students to achieve fair representation. Overall, black students are underrepresented in 39 of 41 states with comparable data, while Latino students are underrepresented in 39 of 48 states.

In “Inequities in Advanced Coursework: What’s Driving Them and What Leaders Can Do,” researchers found three consistent issues in explaining the underrepresentation: first, many schools still do not offer the courses at all; second, schools that enroll the most black and Latino students had slightly fewer students enrolled overall in advanced courses; and third, among schools that offer advanced courses, black and Latino students are often denied access to those courses.

“Advanced coursework opportunities can place students on the path toward college and career success,” Kayla Patrick, The Ed Trust’s P-12 data and policy analyst and lead author of the report, said in a statement. “Yet, too many black and Latino students never receive the opportunity to enroll through no fault of their own. No student should forfeit future success because there were not enough seats in the class or because the seats were not available.”

More seats needed in more schools

Participation in courses including high-level English/writing and history classes, algebra, biology, chemistry and physics can help better prepare students for post-secondary courses as well as future careers. Studies suggest that students who take college-level courses — whether AP, dual-enrollment or International Baccalaureate programs — in high school are more likely to graduate, attend college and earn a degree.

By addressing the gaps in enrollment, district and state policymakers can make inroads in closing stubborn achievement gaps. Heather Rieman, director of P-12 policy for The Education Trust, noted that black and Latino students thrive just like their peers when taking advanced coursework if they are given the opportunity to enroll.

“Students in advanced courses have proven to work harder and engage more in school, leading to fewer absences and suspensions, as well as higher graduation rates,” Rieman said in a statement. “Policymakers can improve the lives of black and Latino students by implementing meaningful policy changes.”

To address these inequities, the report’s authors recommend state lawmakers invest more to expand advanced coursework opportunities in schools serving the most students of color; that districts set clear, measurable goals to expand eligibility and increase access so that black and Latino students have a fair chance to take advanced coursework; and collect data to identify the barriers that prevent students of color and students from low-income backgrounds from enrolling in advanced courses.