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Editorial: Report shows participation gaps in Advanced Placement courses

Feb. 17, 2014 @ 09:36 PM

Advanced Placement courses offered in high schools across the country are touted as a way to benefit students in several ways.

One is to present students with the type of rigorous course work that will help them develop their minds. Another is that taking Advanced Placement, or AP, courses will help prepare them for the kind of studies they will face as they pursue higher education. One more benefit is that students scoring high enough on an AP course exam will receive college credit, increasing the odds that a student will complete his or her college education on time and save money in the process.

One key for students to take advantage of those potential benefits is simply having the opportunity to take the courses. But those opportunities aren’t always there, as a recent report by the College Board points out.

The College Board, a nonprofit organization which oversees the SAT college entrance testing program as well as the Advanced Placement program across the country, last week released a study of 10 years worth of data pertaining to the Advanced Placement program. While noting the expansion of the program to reach far more students in 2013 compared with 2003, it also noted some persistent gaps.

Among them was the participation of lower-income students, or those who qualify for the government’s free or reduced-price lunch program.

That was among the categories in its study that still needs work; the data for West Virginia showed that the Mountain State was among those where there’s still much to do.

The “10th Annual AP Report to the Nation” said that low-income students accounted for 27.5 percent of 2013 graduates across the nation who took at least one AP exam. That’s an increase from 11.4 percent in 2003. Another barometer is that an estimated 57 percent of all low-income graduates in 2013 took at least one AP exam.

In West Virginia, though, the numbers weren’t so promising. While nearly 52 percent of the state’s students receive free or reduced lunches, low-income students made up 16 percent of exam takers, according to College Board data. That means less than a third of low-income students took an AP exam, a far lower proportion than the national average.

There were signs of progress, however, in the Mountain State. The 16 percent of low-income graduates in 2013 who had taken an AP exam was up considerably from a low point of below 10 percent in 2008. Overall the number of West Virginia Class of 2013 students taking an AP exam nearly doubled from 10 years earlier, to about 3,800. So there is indeed growth in the program, not only for lower-income students but for all.

Still, state Superintendent of Schools Jim Phares acknowledged that the state must do better in providing the necessary training for teachers and the encouragement for students to participate. He noted that various state agencies are working together to revise the state’s strategic plan for Advanced Placement courses, with specific participation and success goals set for the graduating class of 2018.

It’s encouraging to hear that the state realizes it should do better and is working toward that. Let’s hope the policies and practices they are developing will yield more opportunities — and more success —  for students who have shown they have the potential to take on more rigorous academic challenges.



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