A Right to Rigor:
Fulfilling Student Potential
All students who are academically ready for the rigor of AP — no matter their location, background, or socioeconomic status — have a right to fulfill that potential. Last year, however, hundreds of thousands of prepared students in this country either did not take an available AP subject for which they had potential or attended a school that did not offer the subject.
How can educators determine readiness for AP? Many schools use a student’s prior GPA or grade in a prerequisite course to determine admission to an AP course. The problem with emphasizing these criteria is that they only have low correlations to success in AP, so they should not be used in isolation or in lieu of more strongly correlated predictors.* Currently, the strongest predictor of success in many AP courses is a student’s performance on particular Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®) sections that are highly correlated to AP success.** From these PSAT/NMSQT results, researchers can identify students with a 60 percent or higher likelihood of success in particular AP subjects.
Analysis of the more than 300,000 students in the graduating class of 2012 who had been identified as having such “AP potential” yet who did not take any recommended AP course reveals striking inequities. In most subject areas, black/African American, Hispanic/Latino and American Indian/Alaska Native students who have the same AP readiness as their white and Asian/Asian American/Pacific Islander peers are significantly less likely to experience such AP course work. Take, for example, AP course work in mathematics. Among ten Asian/Asian American/Pacific Islander students with strong likelihood of success in an AP math course, six take that course, whereas four in ten white, three in ten Hispanic/Latino, three in ten black/African American, and two in ten American Indian/Alaska Native students do.†
This report aims to illuminate the nation’s progress as well as its remaining inequities through stories and data. In AP: A Collaborative Community, we highlight examples of classrooms, districts, and colleges that are contributing to the expansion of rigorous course work for high school students. In Goals and Findings, we look closely at national data to show where these efforts have resulted in gains for students. In Strategies for Progress, we offer strategies many are using to expand AP opportunities for prepared and motivated students, and identify some of the partnerships that strengthen this ongoing collaboration.
* “The Aptitude-Achievement Connection: Using an Aptitude Test to Aid in Allocating Educational Resources.” From Uneducated Guesses: Using Evidence to Uncover Misguided Education Policies by Howard Wainer, 2011.
** Average correlations between grades in relevant course work and AP Exam performance and between high school GPA and AP Exam performance were only 0.25 and 0.28, respectively. Maureen Ewing, Wayne J. Camara, and Roger E. Millsap: The Relationship Between PSAT/NMSQT Scores and AP Examination Grades: A Follow-Up Study. The College Board, 2006.
† These data are based on the nearly two million public school students in the class of 2012 who took the PSAT/NMSQT as 10th- or 11th-graders. Students were classified as taking a recommended AP subject if they completed an AP Exam in a subject for which they had potential to succeed. AP subjects in mathematics are Calculus AB, Calculus BC, Computer Science A, and Statistics.