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Working Toward Equitable Advanced Placement Programming

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This week we are hearing from the Multnomah County Partnership for Education Research (MCPER). Today's post is written from the researcher perspective. Stay tuned: Thursday we will share the practitioner's perspective on this research.

This post is by Nicole Ralston, Assistant Professor at the University of Portland and Co-Director of MCPER.

Research shows that participating in Advanced Placement (AP) courses in high school is a significant predictor of college enrollment (Chajewski, Mattern, & Shaw, 2011) and college degree attainment (An, 2013) and is positively related to SAT performance (McKillip & Rawls, 2013). Underrepresented students, students with lower socioeconomic status, and English-Language Learner students often are less likely to enroll in and complete AP programs — and thus miss out on the benefits of these programs.

AP program participation by race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and gender was the focus of a recent study of the Multnomah County Partnership for Education Research (MCPER). Located at the University of Portland, MCPER is a research-practice partnership between Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), the School of Education at the University of Portland, and six public school districts that collectively serve over 90,000 students and are among the most diverse and high-need districts in the state. The loss of financial resources for school districts has caused many to drastically cut their research departments or to eliminate them entirely. The MCPER partnership seeks to remedy these insufficiencies by providing high-quality, district-driven research that has a focus on learning, equity, and results, with research questions stemming from the districts themselves.

Research Questions

Gresham-Barlow School District (GBSD), one of the six participating districts, asked the partnership to help improve understanding of the three-year enrollment pipeline for their Advanced Placement (AP) college preparatory program. The College Board AP program includes academically rigorous college-level high school courses and offers college credit to students who achieve high scores on standardized exams. The district's focus on equity fueled a desire to better understand who the AP program was serving and what the outcomes were for these students.


The data analysis of district AP enrollment revealed many interesting findings. The district was particularly interested in disaggregating the participation rate data by gender, socioeconomic status (SES; 41% of the students in the district are students in poverty and are of low socioeconomic status), and by race/ethnicity, with a particular focus on Latino students (this is the largest ethnic group in the district, with 21% of the district's students identifying as Latino). Table 1 indicates participation rates in AP, disaggregated by these demographic categories. Female students, White students, and students of high socioeconomic status (SES) were more likely to participate in AP, at disproportionate rates to overall district enrollment.


Despite disproportionate enrollment, Grade Point Averages (GPAs) in 2015 were very similar across all demographic groups, indicating similar success rates in AP courses once enrolled. Table 2 displays average GPAs by participating AP students disaggregated by these same demographic categories.



The results of the data analysis conducted through the MCPER partnership indicate that disproportionalities existed in participation in AP courses in the Gresham-Barlow School District. These findings coincide with prior research which has found that the students drawn to AP programs are often advantaged students with higher-educated parents who perceive themselves as academically advanced in ability, intelligence, and motivation (Testa, 2010). The results of this study confirmed similar disproportionate participation was occurring in GBSD. GBSD was especially concerned with these findings given research demonstrating that the lack of completion of AP credits translates to a statistically significant and practically relevant difference in college preparedness for the underrepresented groups (Moore et al., 2010).

As a result of the findings of this report, the district implemented many new initiatives to address these disproportionalities for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years. Read our upcoming Thursday blogpost to hear more from Deputy Superintendent Dr. Teresa Ketelsen about the initiatives that were implemented.

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