The Role of Advanced Placement in Bridging Excellence Gaps

Research Rundown Issue: April '20
Publisher: Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Date Published: February '20


The Fordham Institute examined differences in Advanced Placement (AP) participation and exam passage rates across geography, race, and socioeconomic status from 1997-2017. Their analysis found that where students live is strongly correlated with AP participation, with more than half of high-poverty rural schools not offering any AP classes. Specifically, they found that rural high school seniors are one-third less likely to take an AP exam as suburban and urban students.

Their report also found that even though AP participation—both in courses and exams—for students of color and low-income students has increased, overall they are still underrepresented and are less likely to pass exams. About half of low-income students passed one or more AP exam, as compared to nearly two-thirds of their higher-income peers. The report recommends that states and schools should “redouble their efforts” to ensure that students do not just have access to AP coursework, but also the preparation and support needed to pass the exams.

Why This Matters in Minnesota

In Minnesota, there are significant disparities in AP participation and exam passage rates across race, geography, and socioeconomic status. In 2018, white students accounted for 73% of those enrolled in AP courses, though they make up only 65% of the student body. There are similar disparities across AP exams taken and passed.

In addition to these racial disparities, low-income students comprise only 11% of students participating in AP courses and 10% of exams taken in Minnesota, even though they comprise 36% of the student population. Furthermore, at least 75% of Minnesota students taking AP courses attend either a suburban or urban school. These disparities are important because there is ample research that shows that students who participate in AP courses have higher academic achievement and are more likely to attend and graduate college.

Read the report