How To Get More Latinos Into Advanced Science and Tech Classes

PHOTO: Members of the AP Chemistry class at Thomas Jefferson High School in Denver, CO, listen and make notes during a lesson on kinetics on Jan. 23, 2007.

Advanced Placement classes in high schools across the country are becoming more diverse, and students are scoring higher on the exams than ever before.

College Board, the organization that handles the AP program, released an annual report this week that shows an overall increase in scores, as well as an increase in the number of students performing at the most elite levels on the test.

And it's not just traditionally high-performing demographics driving the numbers up. More Latinos are taking the test than in previous years, according to the report, and more of them are succeeding.

"As we increasingly diversify, we can increase achievement at the same time," David Coleman, president of the College Board, said during a call with reporters on Wednesday.

But the data is not all positive. Only a small percentage of the Hispanic students who qualify for AP classes actually take them. Of the 20 percent of public school graduates in the class of 2012 who scored a three or higher on at least one AP test in high school, only about 15 percent were Latino, according to the report. A three is the base score needed to get credit or advanced placement at most universities.

The problem is particularly acute in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects, a set of industries currently clamoring for qualified American workers. That's particularly dire, because, according to College Board, that means those students are even less likely to pursue STEM degrees in college. Fewer than one-third of Hispanic high school graduates in the class of 2012 with AP potential in math took an AP math exam.

So why are many minority students not enrolled in advanced placement classes?

One reason for the low number of Hispanic students in AP courses is a lack of access. Many attend schools where the coursework is simply not available.

"Among the factors contributing to this disparity is the lower availability of a variety of AP courses in schools with higher numbers of low-income and traditionally underserved minority students," reads a news release about the report.

The report offers several suggestions for improving access to AP courses. While the obvious solution is for schools to offer more AP courses, the problem is more nuanced. Schools can run into obstacles, such as a lack of funding or properly trained teachers.

One way to increase AP participation, according to the report, is to offer better outreach to disadvantaged students. Many schools use PSAT scores as a marker of which students are prepared to succeed in AP courses. Schools need to do a better job of notifying students that they are eligible for the courses, the report says. Once students are enrolled, the report says that schools should provide support, in the form of peer-to-peer mentoring, counseling and tutoring.

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