Journalism in the Public Interest

At Some Schools, Achievement Lags Behind Opportunity

Data show that, in some states, Advanced Placement exam passing rates remain lower in schools with more poor students.



Some education experts say the opportunity to take advanced classes is critical to helping low-income students succeed later in life.

But opportunity doesn’t always equal achievement. Our new analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that, in some states, Advanced Placement exam passing rates remain lower in schools with more poor students.

“You can’t snap your fingers and change that overnight,” said Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado.  “Wealthy kids have much richer opportunities.”

In our 2011 project, “The Opportunity Gap,” we looked at differences in access to advanced classes between schools with wealthy students and schools with poor students. Some states, such as Florida, have worked to get more students into advanced programs.

Now we’ve updated our Opportunity Gap interactive news application, adding new information -- including Advanced Placement exam passing rates and sports participation -- to   examine the achievement gap between schools. We also added new features, such as the ability to see data from our project in Foursquare and narratives about each school. Adding outcomes – measured by passing rates for AP tests – showed that in some of the states that saw similar AP participation across all income levels, AP passing rates were higher at wealthier schools.

To improve results for all students, experts say that schools need to provide supports, such as smaller classes and extra time with class materials, to help low-income students succeed.

“If we close the opportunity gaps, we are going to close the achievement gaps,” Welner said.

Our analysis found that in Florida and Pennsylvania, for example, there is little variation in AP course participation between low- and high-poverty schools, but the data showed a gap between rich and poor schools when it comes to AP exam passing rates.

“Every student should have an opportunity to enroll in those courses, said Mary Jane Tappen, Deputy Chancellor for Curriculum, Instruction, and Student Services with the Florida Department of Education.  “Performance may not be where we would like it to be yet, but we feel confident it will increase.”

Our analysis was drawn from a nationwide survey by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which tracks school and district information on a range of offerings, including physics, chemistry and Advanced Placement courses in high schools. The survey covered the 2009-2010 school year. The department did the survey to assess whether states and other localities are discriminating by race, gender or disability.

We also compared the survey results to poverty levels, which we measured as using the percentage of students at a school who qualified for free or reduced-price lunch.

While our analysis found a link between race and lack of access to advanced courses, poverty was the strongest factor in determining the proportion of students in a school who were enrolled in higher-level instruction and test-passing rates.

For the more details about how we analyzed this data, please see our methodology. You can look up your school’s results at our Opportunity Gap news application.

Ahhh… the “free” market influences on higher education! Lots of public taxpayer money goes into these taxes and tests. And now Oregon Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton and Apex Learning® announced “a new partnership that will provide Oregon public high school students with access to online Advanced Placement* test preparation at no cost to the school or student. Starting this winter, Oregon students will have access to a range of tools and resources to help them better prepare to take, and succeed in, their AP exams.”

At no cost to the school or student? Really??? If the state diverts this money to test prep, guess what! It costs society!!!

College Board asserts that America’s education system is “crumbling.” But we should question when they “elevate the topic of education” because College Board seeks to build a private enterprise on a public foundation to further expand AP classes.  In a report last year, College Board boasted that 903,630 students took at least one AP exam.

John Tierney, a former college professor and high school teacher argues that AP Classes are a scam in Atlantic Monthly. “AP courses are not, in fact, remotely equivalent to the college-level courses they are said to approximate.” He points out that students increasingly don’t get credit for course-work “that squelches creativity and free inquiry” and maintains that these courses impose “substantial opportunity costs” on non-AP students.

Dartmouth just rejected high AP tests for credit. Not rigorous enough!!! Sure, that will mean a better bottom line for those sneaky kids who want to graduate earlier with less debt…

Seems to me that Dartmouth wants it both ways with College Board. Tell the applicants to take SATs (and ACTs) as many times as they want because they look at just the “best scores.” Gives ‘em bragging rights for high test scores and selectivity since Dartmouth only accepts 10% of applicants.

That is…

Lots of unquantified public taxpayer money goes into these classes and tests.

Unfortunately your country has the same problem as ours. We have serious educational inequalties in terms of poverty and region in Korea.

Wealthier students are always going to perform better on average, not only because schools are unequal (and they are) but also because wealthier students have more resources outside of school. If a wealthy kid is under-performing in school, their parents have the means to fix it. They can hire tutors, buy supplemental materials, or ask Aunt Jenny the engineer to explain the material. Lots of wealthy kids are doing well in school in spite of their classroom teachers, rather than because of them.

If a family can barely pay the rent, they obviously aren’t going to be able to pay for the additional instruction their student may require. This student is also less likely to go to an enriching summer program, or have college educated people around them helping them become fluent in the language of power. These things add up.

There will always be an opportunity gap. Poor students will always have to work much harder to achieve the same things as wealthier students. As it turns out, life isn’t fair. What a surprise.

I think the problem is simpler than they’re making it out to be.  That’s not surprising, since the people doing the research would benefit from more education funding, but let’s ignore that.

But here’s the issue:  If you didn’t grow up reading, one AP course isn’t going to make you a great critic (Literature) or writer (Composition and Language, if I remember correctly).

In other words, you can’t fix achievement by starting at the end of academia.  You need to start at the beginning.  Look up Sugata Mitra and his “Hole in the Wall” experiments (and followups in what they call “Minimally Invasive Education”) to see what underprivileged kids can do, without changing class sizes or investing a ton in books and computers.  He has a TED talk that’s well worth checking out.

Ideally, you start education and a love of learning at home.  If you can’t, start as early as possible in school.  By the time AP classes are even on the horizon, it’s too late.  I’d be willing to bet that a quick check on the minority of kids who excelled all have memories of someone reading to them when they were young, and probably of taking things apart with a family member to see how they worked.

Hey, all of a sudden we want to help poor and ethnic people for the first time in American history, so let’s get surprised when they don’t just drop their anti-establishment hip—hop mentality and come running towards “opportunity”. Maybe if you stopped kidnapping and holding hostage their brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers in your corrupt justice system, there would be some trust restored and a lot more money to invest in schools.

“Wealthy kids have much richer opportunities.”

That’s about the jist of it, so if you wan’t real change, let’s work for a socio-economic system that isn’t rigged in favor of one group of people. Which means pretty much never electing another republican, for starters.

Juan, you’re making a huge assumption, there, that the people behind the research are trying to help.  All the programs, initiatives, and research I’ve seen in the field all seem unified in the belief that this is going to take a long time and a lot of money.

Like in medicine and many other fields, a failing educational system is a perpetually profitable system.

I grew up in a workingclass home with 3 books: bible, joy of cooking and first-aide. We had little access to music( no record player or instruments) or art. My children live in a world of an ubiquitious educational environment: books, lessons, conversations drenched in vocabulary, music variety pack,etc.  Two different worlds…

Education ?  It’s all about $$.  Healthcare?  $$.  Gun control legislation?  $$.  The media?  Ditto.  If it’s 21st c. USA. it’s about quarterly profits and care and feeding of the consumer mentality.  Short term gain focus, ignore long term losses.  CARPE DIEM!

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