AP Test Takers on the Rise

Some minorities may be deterred from taking AP tests, a recent report found

Daily Pennsylvanian
February 27, 2012

By Lois Lee

Penn’s Class of 2015 contributed to a nationwide growth of Advanced Placement test takers.

The College Board – which administers AP exams – released the eighth annual AP Report to the Nation earlier this month, detailing statistics of students who took AP tests.

According to the report, the number of high school students taking an AP exam continued to rise. However, the proportion of those students who score a 3 or higher has decreased from 64.3 percent in 2001 to 59.8 percent today.

With these numbers in mind, the Office of Admissions is making a push to focus more on academic rigor, as well as grades and AP test scores, in applicants’ transcripts, according to Dean of Admissions Eric Furda.

“We need to hold students to the standard that they’re taking advantage of the opportunities that they find, but not disadvantage them if they don’t have these opportunities,” he said. “However, we also need to recognize what level of preparation they have for classes at Penn.”

The report also noted that four out of five black students who were deemed qualified to succeed on an exam – based on their PSAT scores – did not take an AP test.

According to the report, this trend was also present in other underrepresented minorities.

“Access to Advanced Placement coursework remains a concern, particularly among underserved minority and low-income students, who are underrepresented in AP classrooms,” College Board Executive Director of Communications Kathleen Steinberg wrote in an email.

Furda said this gap between potential and achievement is a concern in Penn’s admissions process.

“There is this national disconnect between talented students who have the potential to go to Penn and schools like Penn, but some of them aren’t even thinking about applying to Penn,” he said.

Looking more generally at the AP exams, some have questioned the value of the AP curriculum once applicants are admitted to a school like Penn.

Top Colleges Educational Consultant Steven Goodman, a 1989 Graduate School of Education alumnus, said academic rigor does not always equal college readiness and that there is a large gap between where the AP exams leave off and where the introductory courses at Penn begin.

Associate Dean of the College and Director of Academic Affairs Kent Peterman said this puts Penn in the position of having to work around the different levels of readiness among incoming students.

“We need to find ways for students who haven’t had the best opportunities in their secondary education to come to Penn and succeed,” Peterman said. “That’s really important to us so that we are accessible to students from all kinds of backgrounds, and not just students who come from privileged backgrounds.”

He added that one of the concerns with the AP tests is that at some schools, students may earn a good score on the exam without having truly mastered the material.

“One of the problems the [College Board] has had in trying to spread AP more broadly across the country … is that they’ve introduced AP in schools that don’t have the resources to support it and to do anything more than ‘teaching to the test,'” he said.

College senior and Black Student League President George Hardy said he was not surprised by the report’s findings about minority students and AP exams.

“Given that a lot of minorities come from low-income backgrounds that lack the resources that would prepare them for AP exams, it’s not surprising,” he said, adding that the high cost of the tests may be another deterrent.

Though Hardy took AP courses in high school, he pointed to his experience in AP Calculus as one that is indicative of some of the problems with the College Board’s program.

In the course, “we were so far behind so [our teacher] started teaching toward the test, which is never effective,” he said. “We became very stressed out – many people gave up [and] a lot of people wanted to drop out, but there was nowhere for us to go.”

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