By Sarah Plummer
The number of students taking Advanced Placement courses across the nation has nearly doubled over the last decade. While the number of low-income students has more than quadrupled, a recent report from the College Board indicates West Virginia is still behind when it comes to making sure low-income students have access to these rigorous classes.
According to the “10th Annual AP Report to the Nation” published by the College Board, low-income students accounted for 27.5 percent of 2013 graduates who took at least one AP Exam in 2013, up from 11.4 percent in 2003. In all, 275,864 low-income graduates in the class of 2013 took at least one AP Exam, up from 58,489 in 2003.
In West Virginia, where nearly 52 percent of students receive free or reduced lunches — an indication of poverty — low-income students made up 16 percent of exam takers, according to College Board data.
States with similar levels of student poverty are seeing a greater percentage of low-income students take AP Exams. For example, California has 54 percent of its students on free and reduced lunches and 42 percent of its AP exam-takers are low-income. Likewise, Nevada has 50 percent on free or reduced lunches, while 33 percent of exam-takers are low-income.
College Board President David Coleman said the association is working to make sure equity gaps are eliminated.
“While great strides have been made over the last decade to expand access to AP, we remain as committed as ever to ensuring that every student with the potential to succeed in an AP course has the opportunity to take one,” he said.
Judy Johnson, director of curriculum for Wood County Schools, said West Virginia requires every high school to offer at least four AP courses. In addition, all AP courses are offered through the Department of Education’s virtual school online.
While this does increase course access throughout the state, virtual AP courses are sometimes more difficult for students who would flourish in a traditional classroom, said Kenny Moles, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Raleigh County.
“Virtual courses are more difficult, if for no other reason than because they are self-paced. Students who take them must be socially and academically mature to make sure they are reaching those benchmarks week after week,” he explained.
Moles also said school size and teachers’ willingness to go through AP training every three years play a huge role in what courses are taught. In Raleigh County, two students are taking AP classes non-traditionally. One student at Independence High School is enrolled in a virtual AP course and another from Liberty High School travels during third period to take an AP course at a neighboring high school during fourth period, he said.
Enrolling and taking the rigorous courses are free; however, there are fees connected to taking the AP Exams, which are needed for students to receive college credit for the course. Johnson said students can take the exams for free or at a reduced cost with federal funding if they qualify for free or reduced lunches.
Teachers at Parkersburg High School in Wood County believed so strongly in the importance of AP exams they took an out-of-pocket collection to pay for 60 students to take 72 tests during the 2013 federal government shutdown, said principal Pam Goots.
“Advanced Placement classes are more demanding and there is more student responsibility in the course. It helps students be more successful in college,” she explained. “Students spend more time writing and applying their knowledge rather than spitting back the facts. It boosts their higher-order thinking skills.”
Typically students must score a 3 or higher on AP exams to receive college credit. According to College Board data, West Virginia, Missouri, North Dakota, Louisiana and Mississippi are the five states in the nation with the fewest students scoring 3 or more.