WASHINGTON – Maryland students are “flying” into Advanced Placement classes, but the number of black and Hispanic students continues to lag behind their white and Asian counterparts.
All groups have made impressive gains in both the number of students in AP classes and the numbers taking the tests that can earn them college credit. But just 3 percent of all African-American high school students took an AP test in 2003, compared to 12 percent of whites, 9 percent of Hispanics and a whopping 25 percent of Asians.
“That’s a national problem, and it’s something that we’re determined to address,” said Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education. “These are not simple problems and they deserve more than simplistic solutions.”
The numbers of AP students and AP test-takers have jumped significantly statewide over the past three school years as administrators and teachers have pushed students to try the classes and increased the offerings.
Students taking the tests are also taking more tests than they did three years ago. About 44 percent more public school students are taking about 81 percent more tests, according to a Capital News Service analysis of data from the College Board, which oversees the AP program.
“Kids are kind of flying into the AP classes,” said Ayeola Boothe Kinlaw, an associate director with the College Board. “Maryland was one of our big success stories. They jumped in every category.”
Those jumps have been across the board. So that while black students taking AP exams jumped 59 percent and Hispanic students taking the tests increased by about 75 percent, they were just keeping pace with whites and Asians, whose participation grew by 37 percent and 51 percent, respectively.
In 2001, test-takers were 68 percent white, 12 percent Asian, 10 percent black and 4 percent Hispanic. By 2003, the ratios had changed only slightly: 64 percent were white, 13 percent were Asian, 11 percent were black and Hispanics stayed at 4 percent.
By contrast, African Americans made up about 36 percent of Maryland’s high school population in 2003; whites made up about 54 percent, and Asians and Hispanics each counted for 5 percent.
The College Board and Baltimore City public schools set out to address the disparity with a plan to add 3,000 AP students by June 2006 in the city school system, which has the largest percentage of African-American students in the state.
In the past three years, the city has boosted enrollment in its honors classes from 1,000 to about 25,000 kids, said Arthur Chenoweth, director for interventions for guidance in Baltimore City public schools. While most of those kids are not in AP classes, Chenoweth said, he sees the honor courses as stepping stones toward AP classes.
If it works, the plan would boost African-American participation in AP significantly, he said. But that might be a tough task during tight fiscal years.
“Baltimore has been experiencing major deficit concerns and that may have serious impact on our ability to stay with this three-year plan,” Chenoweth said. “But certainly the desire’s there.”
Adding AP courses are easier in counties like Anne Arundel, where the programs have been popular for years. Since last spring, for example, the county said enrollment in its AP classes increased by about 76 percent, though not all students in those classes are required to take the AP tests.
Mary Gable, director of high schools for Anne Arundel, said that county has boosted its African-American participation in AP classes from 10 to 17 percent since last spring.
“That (increasing minority enrollment) has been a major initiative, and we have had good results from that,” Gable said. “I think that we had a different approach to advanced placement, and we were waiting for students to come to us. We’re now reaching out to students and looking at students who did not see themselves as college bound.”