This morning the Chronicle of Higher Education reports on a new report from the College Board on the demographics of its Advanced Placement exams. Once again (similar results last year), the overall numbers are encouraging; the numbers for blacks are not. And the College Board blames, well, everybody (except for the tests and the test-takers).
First the numbers:
… 24.9 percent of the 2.8 million students who graduated from American public high schools in 2007 took at least one AP test, and 15.2 percent of them earned a score of 3 or higher on at least one test. Those numbers are up slightly from the previous year…. [NOTE: This isn’t completely clear, but a check of last year’s article reveals that the 15.2 percent refers to all high school graduates, not 15.2 percent of the 24.9 percent who took AP classes – jsr.]
Underrepresentation of African-Americans
However, only 3.3 percent of the students who scored 3 or higher on a test were African-American, despite the fact that black students represented 14 percent of all high-school seniors last year….
African-American students also are less likely than their peers to take AP classes….
Black students accounted for only 7.4 percent of AP test takers last year, according to the report. White students, by contrast, accounted for 61.7 percent of test takers and 64 percent of graduating seniors.
In many states, American Indian and Hispanic students’ participation matched their representation in the student body. Nationally, Hispanic students made up 14.6 percent of the high-school-senior population, and 13.6 percent of them scored at least a 3 on an AP test.
In short, black students were significantly “underrepresented” among AP test takers and among those doing well on the test.
Trying to explain this “underrepresentation” is a great challenge to our country, requiring the efforts of, among others, our best scholars (such as Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom in their impressive book, NO EXCUSES: CLOSING THE RACIAL GAP IN LEARNING). What doesn’t help, however, is the moralistic finger-pointing engaged in almost reflexively by representatives of elite institutions such as Trevor Packer, the director of the College Board’s Advanced Placement program.
The board sees a “true and startling lack of equity,” Mr. Packer said. “African-American students in particular are not receiving encouragement and support.”
Does Mr. Packer have any evidence, beyond the “underrepresentation,” that black students “are not receiving encouragement and support”? Who does he believe is guilty (and if there truly is a “true and startling lack of equity,” it is guilt we are talking about) of not providing the missing “encouragement and support”? Teachers? School administrators? Parents? Peers? If you’re going to point your finger at shortcomings in equitable treatment, it at least ought to be clear whom you’re pointing at.
Finally, it would be nice to know whether Mr. Packer believes that Asian-Americans, who are no doubt “overrepresented” among the high achievers, have been receiving a disproportionately and hence inequitably high level of “encouragement and support.”
Perhaps what the College Board should propose is an Equiable Support and Encouragement Redistribution Act, taking some equitable treatment away from those who receive an excess of it and redistributing it to those who are not given enough.