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California students do well on AP exams

About 20% of public school pupils scored three or better on at least one test. But black students lag.

February 14, 2008|Mitchell Landsberg | Times Staff Writer

California public school students continued to outperform their peers in most states on Advanced Placement tests last year, and the state's huge population of Latino students was a particular bright spot, according to reports issued by the College Board on Wednesday. But the state's overall performance slipped slightly from the previous year, and African American students performed dismally compared with their counterparts of other races.

A report on national AP results "reveals a true and startling lack of equity," conceded Trevor Packer, a vice president of the College Board, which runs the Advanced Placement program as well as the SAT test. "What we can see is that African American students in particular are not receiving encouragement and support to enroll in AP classes." Those who do are far less likely to succeed than students of other races.

The Advanced Placement program is intended to offer college-level material to high school students. Taking the classes can boost students' grade-point averages, because the AP grades are given more weight than regular high school grades. And some colleges and universities give college credit to students who pass AP exams with scores of three or better on a five-point scale.

The program has become controversial in recent years, however, for two very different reasons. Some critics have complained that AP classes are inequitably distributed, with far more offerings in affluent, suburban schools than in the inner city. At the same time, some elite private schools have dropped AP classes out of concern that they rely too heavily on rote learning. Still, they remain popular in many schools, and are regarded as a virtual requirement for most students planning to apply to four-year universities.

Nearly one in five California public school students scored three or better on at least one AP exam last year, ranking the state eighth in the nation. New York ranked No. 1, with close to a quarter of its students achieving that benchmark.

Latino students, who lag in many academic assessments, showed surprising strength in AP classes. In large part, that was because many Spanish-speaking students excel in AP Spanish courses. In California, where Latino students account for 37% of all public school pupils, they made up 30.7% of the students who scored three or better in an Advanced Placement exam. However, if Spanish-language classes are removed from the list, that figure drops to 16.1%, according to Sue Landers, director of program development for the College Board.

That still represents a measure of success by a large number of students. "I think it is something to be applauded," Landers said.

Asian students made up a much larger chunk of successful AP students than they did of the overall population, and white students lagged slightly. The group that provoked the most concern among College Board officials was African Americans, who are far less likely than any other sizable group to take AP classes, and even less likely to score a three or above on the tests. Although more black students than ever took AP classes in California last year, they accounted for less than 2% of all successful AP students, despite making up more than 7% of the state's public school population.

College Board officials said that suggests that black students are not being sufficiently prepared or encouraged to take AP classes. "You can't just drop a student into college-level courses in high school without laying the groundwork," College Board President Gaston Caperton said in announcing the results.

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mitchell.landsberg @latimes.com

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High school Advanced Placement classes

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California public high school seniors fared well in a 50-state comparison that looked at how many students earned a score of three or higher on any Advanced Placement exam in 2007. The tests are scored on a scale of one to five, with three the typical cutoff for college credit. Scores show a persistent disparity in performance by race and ethnicity.

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States with largest percentage of graduating seniors scoring three or better on an AP exam

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New York: 23.4%

Maryland: 22.4%

Virginia: 21.5%

Florida: 20.3%

Massachusetts: 20.3%

Connecticut: 20.1%

Vermont: 19.9%

California: 19.7%

Utah: 19.5%

Colorado: 19.2%

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California students taking AP exams

*--* --- Number % scoring --- Taking at 3 or better --- Least one on at least --- exam One exam Statewide 110,620 65.4% White 36,758 68.6% Latino 33,336 66.5% Asian/Pacific 25,809 66.8% Islander -- -- Black 4,038 32.5% *--*

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Race/ethnicity of California AP exam-takers

White: 33.2%

Latino: 30.1%

Asian/Pacific Islander: 23.3%

Black: 3.7%

Other/Not stated: 9.7%

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Ten most popular AP exams in California

*--* - -- Number % scoring - -- taking exam 3 or better 1 U.S. history 43,620 49.0% 2 Eng. lit. and comp. 37,818 57.2% 3 Eng. lang. and comp 37,431 46.5% 4 Calculus AB 27,484 58.3% 5 Gov. and pol.: U.S. 27,276 47.4% 6 Spanish lang. 26,830 80.4% 7 Biology 20,231 59.7% 8 Statistics 14,763 56.1% 9 European history 14,636 61.6% 10 Chemistry 11,696 55.5% *--*

Source: College Board

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