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3 California schools recognized for role in boosting Latino performance on AP tests

Students at campuses in Long Beach, Fontana and San Ysidro outperform their U.S. counterparts on exams in Spanish language, Spanish literature and world history, report says.

February 05, 2009|Carla Rivera

Three public schools in California led the nation in helping Latino students outperform their counterparts in other states on Advanced Placement exams in Spanish language, Spanish literature and world history, according to a report released Wednesday by the College Board.

Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach was cited as the public school with the largest number of Latino students from the class of 2008 earning a 3 or better in AP world history. Exams are scored on a scale of 1 to 5, and many colleges and universities give students course credit for scores of 3 or higher. Advanced Placement courses offer college-level material in a variety of subjects.

Latino students at Fontana High School outpaced their peers on the AP Spanish-language exam, and San Ysidro High School in San Diego had the most Latino students who succeeded on the AP Spanish literature exam.

Overall, 30.8% of California students in the class of 2008 took at least one AP exam during high school, compared with 25% nationwide. More than 20% of California students received a 3, 4 or 5 on at least one exam, ranking California sixth in the nation. Maryland ranked first, with 23.4% of its students achieving a 3 or better.

Miguel Solorio, a 2008 graduate of Wilson High who earned a 5 on the AP world history exam, said the courses were a good steppingstone to his studies at Cal State Long Beach. Solorio took nine AP courses and earned enough credits to place him as a junior in only his second semester in college.

"It's a very good foundation of information if you take them seriously," said Solorio, a history major. "I'm taking all upper-division classes, and in my Latin American nation class, for example, I already know about decolonization because of the AP world history class I took."

The success at Wilson, Fontana and San Ysidro reflect a positive trend of increasing participation and success on AP exams by all ethnic groups and students who are low- income, College Board officials said. Latinos accounted for 38.7% of California's public high school class of 2008 and made up 30.8% of students who scored 3 or better, a slight increase from a year ago.

But Latino and African American students still underperform their white and Asian peers. Black students, for example, were 7.4% of California's public school student population but only 3.5% of those taking AP courses in 2008. Fewer than 2% of black students scored a 3 or better on at least one AP exam.

Success in AP Spanish exams accounts for some of the disparity in progress between Latino and African American students, said Sue Landers, executive director for AP policy and publications.

"For Latino students in California, there are a large number participating in Spanish-language courses, and their success has allowed them to feel more open to other AP courses and to build that college-level confidence," she said.

One of the key criticisms of the AP program is that school districts in poor, urban areas have far fewer offerings than more affluent districts. Some private schools have dropped AP classes, creating similar courses instead that officials say are more challenging and less dependent on rote learning. Many colleges also have tightened requirements for giving credit for AP exams.

But the College Board cites research that AP participants have better college grades and are much more likely to earn a college degree in four years.

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carla.rivera@latimes.com

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