Accuracy in Media

Despite ongoing criticisms about the racial achievement gap found in Advance Placement exam results, the College Board recently issued its 2008 Annual Report, asserting that steps toward
minority academic proficiency are the responsibility of individual
school districts rather than the AP test designers. “The College Board
is committed to the principle that all students deserve an opportunity to participate in rigorous and academically challenging courses and programs,” writes
the CB in its “Equity Policy Statement” (emphasis added). They add that
“schools should make every effort to ensure that their AP classes
reflect the diversity of their student population.”

The CB
maintains that its tests are legitimate, non-racist indicators of
academic proficiency because “two decades of research” have
demonstrated that AP scores are highly predictive of actual college
outcomes, with a grade of 3 or higher on a 5-point scale indicating
college-level proficiency. Research has demonstrated that an AP score
of 5 corresponds to A level proficiency, whereas students earning 4 or
3 would likely have earned a B or C in college. However, some studies
such as the one released by Philip Sadler of Harvard University in 2006 have contradicted this outcome. According to Sadler’s research,
the tests had marginal effect on student performance and did not
closely correlate with high-level college proficiency. Inside Higher Ed reports that College Board representative Jennifer Topiel contested these results because the study sample “included many who had
never taken an AP course and that many of those who had didn’t receive
high scores.” “There’s a lot of research that shows the exact opposite
of what they’re saying,” Topiel said.

This year the College
Board also pointed out that American AP students score higher on
international Physics and Calculus tests than the average U.S. student.
“Even those students who earned AP Calculus grades of 1 or 2
demonstrated the same level of math achievement as students from the
top-performing nation, France,” they wrote. “Even those students who
earned AP Physics grades of 1 or 2 were only bested by students from
the top two nations, Norway and Sweden,” they continued. In contrast,
the average American student did poorly on these tests, with the U.S.
ranking last or second-to-last of the 23 countries assessed.

However, if the AP exam outcomes are indicative of college
preparedness, minorities—especially African-Americans—continue to face
difficult barriers in higher education. According to the 2008 report,
African-Americans compose 14% of the national student population yet
only 7.4% took AP exams. Of this 7.4%, only 3.3% of test-takers scoring
3 or above in 2007 were from this minority, an insignificant increase
from 2.8% in 2002.

The state with the largest equity gap was Mississippi,
which has a 47 % African-American student population, yet only 11.5% of
its successful exam-taking students (scoring a 3 or above) were
African-American. The District of Columbia scored even worse,
with an 83.7% African-American student population while only 24.3% of
successful test-takers were African-American.

Hawaii was the only state in the union that produced a
demographically-proportionate number of African-American students
earning 3 or more on the AP exam. In contrast, 14 states eliminated
this “equity and excellence gap” for Hispanics in 2007. The same number
of states had also eliminated this gap in 2002, but only 10 of theses
states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland,
Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, and
West Virginia
) managed to keep this score for all three years measured. The District of Columbia eliminated its equity and excellence gap for Latinos in 2002, 2006, and
2007—a stark contrast to the District’s poor performance with

The alleged greater “equity” for Hispanics
was met with significant skepticism this year, prompting the CB to
release altered Hispanic scores which discounted Latino Spanish
language test scores. According to Inside Higher Ed writer Scott Jaschik,
the altered measure exposed a “significant gap that is otherwise
visible” because the percentage of Latinos participating in the program
falls to 7.5% and “the percentage of [Hispanic] students earning at
least a 3 on one exam falls the same percentage.

Despite these
negative results, the College Board asserts that “With 75 percent of
U.S. high school graduates entering college, the nation is steadily
democratizing entrance to college.” The 2008 report also insinuated
that the poor scores were result of a faulty school curriculum, rather
than a biased test. “If we are to succeed in democratizing what really
counts—successful college degree completion—the gulf between high school graduation standards and freshman college course requirements must be eliminated,”
they write (emphasis added). In other words, the CB believes that
students are not adequately being prepared for college. In order to
ameliorate this, the CB initiated a rigorous audit of approximately
130,000 teachers’ AP curricula at more than 14,000 high schools in
2007. The CB also has a number of initiatives “designed to support
traditionally underserved students,” such as the African-American
Student Achievement Initiative, AP Start-up Grants, AP Fellows Program,
and the National AP Equity Colloquium.


Read more about this topic at Campus Report Online, where you can find Bethany Stotts’ article College Board Announces Increased College Readiness.

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