Increasing Black Student Participation and Achievement in Advanced Placement Courses: A Comparative Analysis of Two Schools
Ringo, Saroja R.
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Equal educational opportunity, especially as it pertains to Black Americans, has a long ideological history in the United States. As part of that history, the achievement gap has currently taken center stage in mainstream discussions about K-12 education in this country. This study focuses on the implications of the achievement gap for Black students' participation and achievement in Advanced Placement classes. Participation and success in AP courses is privileged in the college admissions process and students who perform well on AP exams are more likely to be accepted by institutions of higher education and to be better prepared for the rigors of college coursework. In high schools across the country, administrators are engaged in reform efforts to narrow the AP gap and ensure that all students have equitable opportunities to access higher education. The existing literature suggests that addressing the Black-White AP gap requires deliberate, collaborative action on the part of school-personnel and students' families. This involves the development of productive teacher-student and teacher-parent relationships based on high expectations and care. This qualitative study employs comparative case study methodology to investigate what two schools in a large, diverse, suburban school district are doing to 1) increase the participation of Black students in AP classes, and 2) support the academic achievement of Black students in AP classes. At each school, administrators, school counselors, AP teachers, Black AP students, and their parents were interviewed to develop understandings of the programs, processes, and practices aimed at addressing the Black-White AP gap as well as the various perceptions of each group. As these findings indicate, school-district accountability pressures influence school-level reform efforts. In one school, increased pressures to meet accountability demands contributed to the creation of an accountability culture. At the other, characterized by a culture of achievement, there was less intense pressure from the school-district. Despite the varying accountability demands from the school-district, the climate at each school was influenced similarly by issues of race, which was a salient factor in relationships between White AP teachers and Black AP students and their parents.