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Eliminating Race-Based Disparities in AP Course Enrollment

Advanced coursework opportunities are a great way to give high school students the chance to earn college credit or industry credentials while they are still in high school.?Common examples of advanced coursework include: 

The value of advanced coursework opportunities, however, is not only tied to their ability to provide potential college credit or industry credentials. Because of the increased rigor and high expectations of these courses, advanced coursework offers high schoolers valuable opportunities to gain skills and demonstrate competencies in the kinds of learning they can expect to see in postsecondary education and in-demand careers.  

However, the opportunity gaps in the advanced coursework system—the inequitable distribution of funding, supports, and pathways for student participation and success—have a profound impact on which students are enrolling and succeeding in advanced coursework opportunities. The chart below is one illustration of the opportunity gap.

The Advanced Placement (AP) credit funnel in Ohio, per every 1,000 Black students

Estimation of how many Black high school students would enroll in an AP course, take an AP test, and pass an AP test for every 1,000 Black public high school students in the state during the 2015-16 school year

Data collected by the Center of American Progress makes it clear that consistent opportunity gaps existed across the country in 2015 and 2016 at every level of the Advanced Placement funnel which includes students who: 

  • Had access to AP coursework 

  • Enrolled in AP coursework

  • Took AP tests 

  • Passed AP tests

These gaps existed across racial and ethnic student subgroups in this analysis, and other research has shown gaps along socioeconomic lines. Similar trends are also seen when looking at College Credit Plus course access and completion. To effectively expand and improve equitable advanced coursework opportunities, the Center for American Progress recommends: 

  • Collecting and tracking accurate and reliable data on advanced coursework 

  • Leveraging federal and state support 

  • Preparing students for success in advanced coursework 

  • Expanding access to advanced coursework 

  • Reducing barriers to advanced coursework 

  • Providing supports for students and families in advanced coursework 

To begin implementing these recommendations, one of the first steps that districts can take is to examine their master schedule. The master schedule is to a school what grading policies are to teachers and classrooms. It reveals the true beliefs, attitudes, values, and priorities of a school. The article “The Master Schedule: A Culture Indicator” by the National Association of Secondary Principals and the rubric to evaluate program equity asks us to examine our master schedules with an equity lens to assess whether our master schedules are truly focused on student needs. When scheduling is used as a response to what data tells us that students need—and when it properly aligns the human and fiscal resources necessary to ensure that happens—then it not only will support teaching and learning, but also begin to unravel some of the instructional inequities that cause societal inequities. 

Research shows that when students are given access to advanced coursework opportunities, they work harder and engage more in school, leading to fewer absences and suspensions and higher graduation rates. Rigorous high school courses contribute to postsecondary success because students can graduate from high school with college credits or industry credentials, giving them a head start. Students who enter college with six or more credits are more likely to earn a degree. Not surprisingly, opportunities to take advanced courses open the door for Black and Latino students to have even more opportunities for advanced work in the future. I encourage you to take a deep dive into your advanced coursework data and determine what makes sense for your next steps to ensure access and success in advanced level coursework for all students.  

Christine Galvin is the Director of College and Career Readiness at the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio. Formerly an Assistant Superintendent at Bellefontaine City Schools, Christine has served as a High School Principal and a High School English Teacher for a total of 27 years in education. At the ESC, Christine runs the Success Network with the mission of serving as a link between schools and leaders, providing resources to advance and accelerate students beyond high school. Much of her work focuses on connecting stakeholders through the Business Advisory Council, Higher Education Partnerships, and grant opportunities. Christine also supports regional collaborative efforts around pathway and work-based learning development.