3 ways to move more Black and brown students into AP

Efforts to to get more underrepresented to enroll have taken on more urgency
By: | June 18, 2021
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More Black and brown students would enroll in advanced placement and other higher-level classes if more adults were involved in the decision-making process, one expert says.

Over the last several years, efforts to move more underrepresented students into the most rigorous courses have taken on more urgency as research shows achievement tends to increase when learners are challenged by the content.

One barrier is that Black and Hispanics are more likely to enter high school unprepared for higher-level classes after attending “segregated and under-resourced elementary and middle schools,” says Dania V. Francis, an assistant professor in the Economics Department at the University of Massachusetts Boston who has written extensively on the issue. “Then there are students who are academically eligible and choose not to opt into AP for a variety of reasons,” Francis says. “AP courses can be racially isolated spaces for Black students.”

Some students are reluctant to enroll when they have no other Black and brown peers in those courses. For others, the fear of failure is a major hurdle, particularly when students haven’t seen classmates who look like them succeeding in these courses, Francis says.

Here are a few ways high school educators can boost representation in AP and high-level courses:

1. Reducing the risk of bias. Francis says she doesn’t want to imply that school counselors are biased. However, heavy caseloads, particularly in large urban schools, may cause them to overlook qualified Black and brown students when making advancement placement recommendations. “A best practice is to have parents, counselors, teachers and students involved in meetings and included in the decisions,” Francis says. “Having more eyes on the decisions can reduce the potential for bias.”

2. What about artificial intelligence? Educators could use AI, and the data generated, to analyze students who are enrolled in AP calculus, for instance, and determine if there are underrepresented students with similar academic abilities who are not in the class. Counselors can then reach out to those students to encourage them to enroll.

3. Inspiring younger generations. Even a one-time push to bring more underrepresented students into AP could have a lasting impact, Francis says. A robust campaign that increases Black and brown participation in AP can serve as a powerful model for younger students. Just a 1% increase in enrollment in one year increases the likelihood other Black and brown students will follow by 22%, she notes. “It matters to see other Black students taking those courses. It leads to a multiplier effect for younger cohorts to come.”