WASHINGTON – The number of minority students taking Advanced Placement exams has grown faster in Maryland than any other state, but the percentage of minority students taking the test still trails that of whites.
The College Board, which administers AP exams nationally, said this week that 41 percent more black students in Maryland took AP tests in 2003 than in 2002, compared to a national increase of 14 percent for blacks. Hispanic student participation grew by 42 percent in Maryland, 16 percent nationally.
Michael Marsh, a regional representative for the College Board, said Maryland’s progress in minority participation has come statewide, not just in a few districts.
“We think it is really important to give states the credit . . . when they have done a good job,” Marsh said. “If you go to any school in the state, I think they could talk about the things that they have been doing. It is a culture in the state that is changing.”
Despite the gains, however, only 9 percent of Hispanic and 3 percent of black students in Maryland public high schools took the exams in 2003. In comparison, about 12 percent of white students and 25 percent of Asian students took exams.
But the College Board noted that minority students in Maryland were also most-improved in the nation when it came to test scores: 28 percent more black students and 34 percent more Hispanic students scored three or higher in 2003 than in 2002. Most colleges will grant credit to high school students who score three or better on the five-point test scale.
In 2003, Hispanic students in the state got three or higher on 64 percent of the AP exams they took, compared to 71 percent for whites and 72 percent for Asians. Blacks improved but still trailed all groups, getting a three or higher on only 34 percent of the AP tests they took last year.
A state Department of Education spokesman acknowledged the racial disparity in AP scores and participation, but said the state is “on the right track.”
“That’s a concern nationwide,” Bill Reinhard said Wednesday. “Maryland hasn’t solved it, but we’re doing better than anyone else.”
Reinhard and Marsh both said Maryland is leading other states because of a “close collaboration” between state education officials and the College Board, and encouragement at the local level.
“Maryland is special because of the relationship that we have formed with them, because they have continued to provide support to the districts” and because of high expectations, he said.
He mostly attributed Maryland’s progress to interaction at the local level among school officials, parents and students.
At Catonsville High School, for example, Principal Robert Tomback said encouraging minority students to take AP classes “really comes down to that one-on-one connection.”
Tomback said he looks at test scores, attendance records and teacher recommendations each year to find students with the potential to do well in AP courses. About 14 percent of his students currently take those classes, he said.
“It’s our practice to open the door,” Tomback said. “If a student expresses that interest, we’ll certainly enroll him and support him like crazy.”
Lynn McCawley, a spokeswoman for Prince George’s County public schools, also said teachers and principals work at the local level to encourage students to participate.
Baltimore County schools spokesman Charles Herndon attributed the increase in minority participation to a partnership with the College Board that has let the district expand the AP program and offer more exams at more schools.
“We’re expanding into some schools, including some predominantly African-American schools, that have not had those AP opportunities in the past,” Herndon said.
He said the district exceeded its goal of getting 7 percent of students districtwide to take AP courses last year, when it enrolled 9 percent of students.
But data from Baltimore County shows the same trends as the state and nation: A smaller percentage of black and Hispanic students take AP classes in comparison to their white and Asian counterparts.
In 2003, Herndon said 11 percent of the county’s white students and 17 percent of its Asian high school students were in AP courses, but only 4 percent of Hispanic students and 3 percent of black students participated.
Since reaching the goal of 7 percent participation districtwide, Herndon said the county is now focusing on reaching 7 percent participation at each school.
While he applauded Maryland’s efforts, Marsh warned that the AP exam disparity between minority and white students is a national problem that will take time to change.
“You don’t change that overnight,” he said.
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