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ivil Rights Report Shines Light on Education Disparities More Underserved Kids Taking Advanced Placement Exams

Written by Chris Levister, from Blackvoicenews.com on 05 August 2011.

If algebra is the “gatekeeper” course that determines whether students will have access to higher education then thousands of African American and other underserved high school students are facing a locked gate with no key. U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights data show schools serving mostly African-American students are twice as likely to have inexperienced teachers as are schools serving mostly whites in the same district.

That’s the conclusion of the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) Office for Civil Rights 2009-2010 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC).  The first of a two-part series, the survey includes responses from approximately 7,000 school districts and more than 72,000 schools.

These data provide policymakers, educators and parents with critical information that will aid them in identifying inequities and targeting solutions to close the persistent educational achievement gap in America.

For example, in 3,000 high schools serving 500,000 students, math classes don’t go higher than Algebra I, and 7,300 schools serving two million students had no access to calculus classes. Schools serving mostly African-American students are twice as likely to have inexperienced teachers as are schools serving mostly Whites in the same district.  Only two percent of students with disabilities are taking at least one Advanced Placement class.
“These data show that far too many students are still not getting access to the kinds of classes, resources and opportunities they need to be successful,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The data includes information on: access to the rigorous sequence of college and career-ready math and science courses, the number of first and second-year teachers in schools, number of high school counselors in schools, availability of pre- K and kindergarten programs, districts operating under desegregation orders or plans, and whether districts have written policies prohibiting harassment and bullying on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, or disability.

“To meet President Obama’s goal to lead the world in college graduates by 2020, we need efficient, practical and accessible information like this to help guide our path,” said Duncan.

For more than a decade now, state education departments have been mandating that all students must pass Algebra 1 in order to graduate from high school.  New studies are finally coming out on the effectiveness of this push.

“Transparency is the path to reform, and it’s only through shining a bright spotlight on where opportunity gaps exist that we can really make headway on closing the achievement gap,” said Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

More students taking Advanced Placement exams The College Board’s annual AP Report to the Nation shows record numbers of students taking the Advanced Placement tests, but significant gaps in both test access and preparation remain for some minority students.  A decade ago, few minority students were taking PSAT/PLAN tests of AP courses and even fewer were going to college.  Studies repeatedly have shown that students who take advanced placement classes have greater chances of attending and succeeding in college.

The program offers college-level coursework to high school students in 34 areas.  Upon completion of the courses, students may choose to take the AP exam in their subject.  The tests are graded on a 1-5 scale, and a score of 3 or better indicates that students have achieved college-level understanding of the subject.  Students who score 3, 4, or 5 on the exams can earn college credit.

Each year, the College Board releases the AP Report to the Nation, which includes demographic statistics on who's taking the tests and how America's high school students are performing.

The report shows that a record 2.9 million exams were taken last year, and 15.9 percent of the public school graduating class of 2009 scored 3 or higher.  These numbers indicate a pattern of steady improvement over the past five years in both access to and preparation for the test for students across the country.

The College Board has actively reached out to underserved communities, and 2009 saw an unprecedented number of low income students taking the exams.  They made up 18.9 percent of the total 2009 examinees, and 14.7 percent of the students who received a 3 or better on at least one test.
However, the numbers show that significant disparities remain, particularly for African American students. They made up 14.5 percent of the 2009 graduating class, but were only 8.2 percent of the examinee population.  Worse yet, Black students made up only 3.7 percent of the number of students who passed the tests.  That's only a slight improvement from 2008, when Black students made up 3.5 percent of those passing the exams.

U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights data show schools serving mostly African-American students are twice as likely to have inexperienced teachers as are schools serving mostly whites in the same district.

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