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Why promising minority students aren't signing up for AP exams

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Enrollment in AP courses has recently become more diverse. In 2002, less than 18 percent of AP exam takers were so-called “underserved minorities.” Now the figure is 26 percent. And the number of low-income students in the AP program has grown from 11 percent to nearly 27 percent in the same time period. This is due in part to widespread subsidies to help offset the test's nearly $100 price tag.  

Mr. Packer says that low-enrollment in AP courses and exams among minority students is often a function of availability. But other education experts argue that the problem is more systemic.  

When it comes to math and science, minority students are “often not recognized as the smart kids in the class,” says Mary Walker, an education professor at the University of Texas in Austin who focuses on math and science education.

If you don’t cultivate students’ interest and aptitude for a subject early in their educational careers, she says, increasing their access to AP exams may simply be too little too late.

“If you don’t get them interested at middle school level they won’t be on track to take advanced courses in high school because they won’t have taken the necessary prerequisites,” she says.

The “high likelihood” that a student will pass an AP exam is determined by looking at a student’s score on the Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test (PSAT) – an SAT-style test the College Board offers to high school sophomores and juniors. Students with certain qualifying scores on one or more sections of that exam have at least a 60 percent chance of passing an AP exam, the College Board reports.

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