by Allexis Cronmiller
During Barack Obama’s first presidential term, Obama emphasized through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) the importance of funding educational programs with rigorous course work in hopes to provide a foundation for long-term economic stimulation (Chajewski, p. 16). A more intense curriculum can be provided through Advanced Placement Programs. The AP Program presents high school students with college-level coursework in preparation for an exam at the end of the school year, testing their knowledge of the course subject. The exams are scaled from one to five, five being “extremely well qualified” (Chajewski, p. 16). Exams scoring a three or above are typically granted college credit, but it is based on the college or university’s discretion. Students partaking in AP Programs have significantly increased over the past fifty years, as more colleges and universities grant students with a course credit (Chajewski, p. 16).
With increased participation, AP Programs have extended into “underserved student regions,” according to the College Board (Chajewski, p. 16). A matter of concern within the American education system is the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students. Initiatives, such as AP programs have been incorporated to reduce the achievement gap of minority students, through the integration of rigorous course work. According to The College Board, providing a demanding course load to high school students has been statistically shown to improve high school and college graduation rates (Chajewski, p. 1).
AP Programs are aimed towards students who are academically advanced. However, students who are not as academically advanced still benefit from having AP courses offered within their school. The intent of the program is to encourage all scholars to further their education by providing them with courses on the college level. As Advanced Placement programs become increasingly popular in high schools throughout the country, students are being provided with college-level classes at a younger age. Having AP classes as an option to incorporate into their class schedule, encourages students to think about their next step in life. It helps initiate the planning to go to college, while helping students get a jump start on the courses they have considered taking during their post-secondary undergraduate education (Chajewski, p. 16). Higher-level course-work at an early age can activate a students self-awareness of their academic potential, ultimately fueling college aspirations (Chajewski, p. 17). According to a College Board study from 2006, students who participated in an AP Program were twice as likely to further their education at a post-secondary institution (Chajewski, p. 19). Likewise, College Board research has shown AP Programs as a beneficial means towards students achieving a higher-academic degree after their post-secondary undergraduate education (Chajewski, p. 17).
Jay Matthews, inventor of the Challenge Index that ranks America’s Most Challenging High Schools by analyzing the amount of students taking Advanced Placement courses. From his findings, Matthews endorses the success of students in AP courses. Instigating higher-level thinking in AP classes is considered a challenge students are determined to overcome (Matthews, p. 1). AP courses have provided minority students with the necessary means to reduce the achievement gap.
Matthews’ Challenge Index critically examined the results of an AP Calculus exam taken by Mexican-American students at Garfield High School in Los Angeles. In 1987, Garfield teachers, Jaime Escalante and Ben Jimenez, were responsible for investing their time and energy so students would be better able to perform on the AP exam. Because of their hard work, twenty-six percent of all Mexican-American students in the country passed the AP Calculus exam, scoring a three or higher. The teachers’ devotion towards the prosperity of their students provided students with the encouragement they needed to succeed in the classroom (Matthews, p. 1). Once enrolled in these higher-level courses, students have found words of encouragement from their teachers helpful as they strive towards academic success (Walker, p. 19). Yet, teachers are not the only ones who help the students prosper, but a supportive family has been shown to contribute to the academic success of a student as well.
The academic ability of minority students is often undermined based on this achievement gap. The academic potential of a minority student is perceived as being significantly lower than a student in the white majority. Jaime Escalante warned the students in his scholastically vigorous AP Calculus course that the students would need to work twice as hard given their Mexican-American heritage.
Jaime Escalantes’ success story was turned into a film, Stand and Deliver, in 1988. Edward James Olmos portrays Jaime Escalante as a hard-working teacher who worked with his underprivileged students to help them overcome the structural and institutional obstacles within the education system. This is Edward giving a pep-talk to his students…
Edward James Olmos (Jaime Escalante): There will be no free rides, no excuses. You already have two strikes against you: your name and your complexion. Because of those two strikes, there are some people in this world who will assume that you know less than you do. Math is the great equalizer…When you go for a job, the person giving you that job will not want to hear your problems; ergo, neither do I. You’re going to work harder here than you’ve ever worked anywhere else. And the only think I ask from you is ganas, Desire.
Offering AP courses at the high school level benefits students because it provides them with an incentive to further their education. If students are able to gain a better understanding of the course load expected in college early on in life, they will become more accustomed to the amount of work received in college. Making the transition from high school to college a little smoother.
Another benefit of AP testing is that they are standardized. AP teachers are unable to “dumb” down the material for the course because students are expected to know the fundamentals. AP courses tease out the details of a given subject matter.
Psychologically, minority students feel as if they are not qualified for AP courses because of the overwhelmingly white population within AP courses. Minority students become discouraged because they feel isolated from the rest of their minority when they enter AP courses. Jaime Escalante’s AP Calculus class passed the exam, however their scores were called into question by the administration. Edward, playing the role of Jaime within Stand and Deliver, exudes his frustration towards the bias administration…
Edward James Olmos (Jaime Escalante): You know what kills me… It’s that they lost the confidence in the system they’re now finally qualified to be a part of.
According to the administration, the students’ scores did not align with the low expectations of students of a similar cultural background. Assuming the students were incapable of high academic performance, Jaime Escalante’s class was required to take the AP Calculus exam once more under close examination.
Minority students feel as though they have a weaker support system that encourages these students to join these difficult courses. Minority students have been stereotyped as “sell-outs” and adhere to this stereotype at times because they do not want to standout within the minority.
Students need the resources that promote academic prosperity. The opportunity to take Advanced Placement courses is aimed towards preparing a student for an academic future. It should not be contingent on sociocultural factors. The implementation of Advanced Placement classes in high schools is a crucial development as we nationally strive towards educational equity for all students. It is important to continue incorporating these classes into schools because it provides students of all races the opportunity and optimism to achieve the future they deserve.
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Mathews, Jay. (2014, February 17). Tough class? that’s a good thing. Washington Post. Washington Post News Service with Bloomberg News. Retrieved from http://find.galegroup.com/gic/infomark.do?&source=gale&idigest=40dcbaebf1bc4875b660f72be0c0e9d4&prodId=GIC&userGroupName=bucknell_it&tabID=T004&docId=A358904100&type=retrieve&contentSet=IAC-Documents&version=1.0
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Werkema, R. D., & Case, R. (2005). Calculus as a catalyst: The transformation of an inner-city high school in boston. Urban Education, 40(5), 497-520. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/62137422?accountid=9784