• This is the third article in a three-part series that looks at why AP classes aren’t offered to all students, the barriers to being able to take an AP class, and, in the end, who benefits from these classes and tests.

The beginning of May brings a particular buzz to the halls of high schools as juniors and seniors gear up to spend three hours sitting at spaced-out desks under fluorescent lights. They’ve spent the last eight months challenging themselves in academically difficult classes, which have all led up to this moment. That’s right — it’s time for the AP exams. 

There’s a lot of pressure hinging on these tests.

In the American education system, APs are lauded as the best way to show colleges you’re a good candidate. While the courses do mostly offer a chance to try out a new learning style and push yourself academically, there are many asterisks to whether APs are the best — or only — path forward for everyone. The exams offer the possibility of earning college credit — a time and money-saving prospect for students and families — if you score high enough.

Only about half of Black students who took AP exams in 2020 earned a score that qualified for college credit.

In May 2021, nearly 1.18 million students took at least one AP exam, which was a slight decline from the 1.21 million in 2020. Only 22% of exam-takers in 2021 scored 3 out of 5 possible points, the minimum score most colleges accept in exchange for college credit. This is already a drop from the 24% in 2020, and an even steeper drop from 2019, when roughly 60% of exam takers scored 3 or higher.

The breakdown by race from 2020, the last year the College Board released such data, shows that only about half of Black students who took AP exams earned a score that qualified for college credit. Black students also have the widest gap between the rate of students who took an AP exam and also earned credit.

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