An Examination of the Underrepresentation of African Americans in Advanced Placement Courses

Williams, Benjamin, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Duke, Daniel, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

Since desegregation, a variety of studies have been designed to assess the prevalence of the achievement gap (Ford, Grantham, & Whiting, 2008). Only recently have studies on this topic focused directly on the underrepresentation of African American students in accelerated and Advanced Placement (AP) courses. In 2006, African American students comprised 14.1% of the school-age population in the United States, but only 6.5% of the AP students (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). This underrepresentation of African-American in AP classes is just as alarming as the overall achievement gap addressed by NCLB

College Board (2012) data shows that the racial gap at the academic top continues to increase. The growing academic disparity between African Americans and Caucasian Americans has gained the attention of not only the federal government, but also social science researchers. Since 2000, there has been an increase in research on the achievement gap; in the past five years, researchers have focused more and more on the underrepresentation of African American student in AP courses.

The underrepresentation of African American students can lead to the false belief among these students that AP is not intended for African American students (Ford & Whiting, 2007). Teachers and peers can label non-AP students as lazy and incapable of achieving success in a challenging AP curriculum. These types of labels have a negative impact on the group, giving them a false idea of academic inferiority (O’Connor, 2006).

It is important to understand why African American students who are eligible to participate in AP courses either do or do not participate. What factors influence their decision? The research questions centered around asking African American students to express their perspectives about why there is an underrepresentation of African American students in AP Courses. The interview questions challenged the participants to identify the problems that were prohibiting African American students from enrolling in higher-level courses.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
African American AP Students, Underrepresentation
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