College board: Minorities lag in AP test performance
Tara Malone, Chicago Tribune | February 9, 2011

Whether enrolled in statistics or Spanish, a record number of Illinois high school seniors took college-level courses last year, but the percentage who passed the grueling end-of-term exams remained divided along racial lines, according to a report released Wednesday.

One of every four Illinois high school seniors took at least one Advanced Placement course before they graduated last spring. Of those who enrolled, about two-thirds scored a high enough grade to potentially earn college credit before they stepped foot onto a university campus.

But only 38 percent of low-income students enrolled earned top marks on the AP exams, which are a coveted staple on the transcripts of college-bound teens trying to impress admissions officials.

The performance divide along racial lines wasn’t much better. In Illinois, 75 percent of white students who enrolled in AP courses earned at least one top mark compared to 22 percent of African-American students and 54 percent of Hispanic teens, according to the results from the College Board, which administers the AP tests. About 79 percent of Asian high-school seniors passed at least one AP test.

“I wish we could fix this overnight, but it doesn’t fix overnight,” said Marica Cullen, who oversees curriculum and instruction for the Illinois State Board of Education. “When you bring in more test-takers, you get more students who are edging over and challenging themselves for the first time. It’s a long process … to set the bar higher and help kids achieve.”

The national test results also reflect a racial divide.

While African-American students represented 14.6 percent of the Class of 2010, they were just 3.9 percent of students who scored high enough to earn college credit, the national report shows.
Exams are scored on a scale of 1 to 5, with most colleges awarding credit for a score of 3 or higher.

Hispanic students fared better nationwide and in Illinois. Latino students comprised 16.8 percent of the graduating class nationwide and represented 14.6 percent of students with top scores though that figure drops to 8.9 percent when students’ scores on the AP Spanish exam are factored out. In Illinois, 12.3 percent of Hispanic students earned top marks on at least one AP exam while they represented 14.4 percent of last year’s graduates.  (Read more)