Advanced Placement (AP) courses are the gold standard for preparing students for college. In fact, studies have found that AP participation correlates with higher rates of college enrollment and completion, even among young people who don’t pass their end-of-year AP exams. Yet black and Hispanic students are underrepresented in AP courses, just as they are less likely to be identified as gifted in earlier grades. That’s why a recent study published in the Journal of Advanced Academics by Amy K. Graefe and Jennifer A. Ritchotte focuses on the relationship between a gifted designation and AP enrollment and performance for Hispanic students. This small-scale study yielded encouraging findings that go against the grain of previous studies.
The authors lay out seven factors that have been shown to predict positive AP performance: gender, race and ethnicity, free-or-reduced-price-lunch status, gifted identification, prior AP experience, ESL status, and GPA. The high school they chose for the study has a 64 percent Hispanic population and is located in a high poverty city. Its demographics mirror those of its district, and it supports gifted-student designation even in high school, not just primary school, and had pre-existing policies to prepare underrepresented students for AP success. The intervention applied in the study was a three-year grant to the school to increase the diversity of its AP participation. The grant funded specialized teacher training, up-to-date materials, Saturday study sessions, test fee subsidies, and monetary rewards for teachers and students for passing AP scores. Simultaneously, the school removed barriers to taking AP courses, such as prerequisite courses and teacher recommendation and grade requirements. The researchers collected the data and used correlation analyses to calculate the relationships between the seven variables and students’ likelihood of scoring 3 or higher on the AP exam.
After three years, AP enrollment increased from 174 students taking 268 AP exams to 340 taking 568 exams, this in a school with 1,400-plus students. Hispanic participation rose from 85 students to 157 in the same period. Gifted students were 11 percent of the average total population across the years, of which 34.2 percent of them were Hispanic and 59.9 percent white, confirming well-known disparities in gifted designation. Graefe and Ritchotte found that race or ethnicity was not associated with passing rates, however, as gifted Hispanic and gifted white students were just as likely to pass. Though not statistically significant, Hispanic students were actually slightly more likely to pass (57.7 percent versus 52.7 percent), which the authors noted could be due to gifted designation being more selective for them than white peers. They also found that Hispanic gifted students were 2.8 times more likely to pass an AP exam than non-gifted Hispanic students—even when controlling for GPA. Notably, they found that none of the other variables was a significant predictor of passing. This last finding differs from previous studies that found that gender and prior Advanced Placement experience correlated with passing AP exams, and that ESL or low-income status was negatively associated with passing. Nonetheless, it is consistent with prior studies that suggested that differentiated instruction was a prime contributor to better AP performance for low-income and linguistically diverse students, since schools tend to sort gifted students in separate classrooms.
Graefe and Ritchotte’s study reminds us once again of the importance of strategic investments in underrepresented students. This study and many others find that talented students of color are just as capable as more advantaged peers; all they require is access to the right resources and quality teachers. We should note, however, that the study still requires replication on a larger-scale before confidently making recommendations based on its findings. Nonetheless, it shows that schools must do a better job of identifying black and Hispanic gifted students to improve their exposure to and performance in AP courses. And it shows that school districts can and should eliminate barriers to taking AP courses that screen out smart but less-advantaged students and, if possible, provide more instructional time with well-trained AP teachers.
SOURCE: Amy K. Graefe and Jennifer A. Ritchotte, “An Exploration of Factors That Predict Advanced Placement Exam Success for Gifted Hispanic Students,” Journal of Advanced Academics (November 2019).