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Study Finds Hispanic Students Underrepresented In AP Classes

Oct. 25, 2011
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

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Susan Borg

Only 20 percent of Hispanic students are categorized as college-ready in reading and mathematics, compared to more than 50 percent of white students, according to a researcher from Sam Houston State University’s Center for Research in Educational Leadership.

Because positive performance on Advanced Placement examinations taken in high school is one of the best predictors of college-readiness and success in college, researcher Susan Borg reasons that “increasing the enrollment of Hispanic students in AP courses might represent one way to equalize these currently imbalanced college-readiness rates.”

In 2010, she conducted a collective study to identify and describe the reasons that academically successful Hispanic students from four suburban Texas high schools did not enroll in AP courses. Advanced Placement classes are rigorous courses of high school study, culminating in the opportunity to take an examination to earn college credit in the particular subject.

Borg noted that currently a disproportionate number of Hispanics are participating in AP courses in Texas: 48 percent of students participating in AP courses in Texas are white, compared to 30 percent Hispanic, though the high school student population in Texas is 43 percent Hispanic and 38 percent white.

Borg’s work with high-achieving 12th grade Hispanic students found that their low enrollment rates in AP courses were affected by an unpreparedness for AP coursework due to the fact that they either chose, or were advised, not to continue in earlier Pre-AP courses, a lack of work ethic dedicated to AP, and lack of consistent relationships with the school personnel, such as counselors and teachers, who are the best sources of reliable information for college preparation and success.

According to the students, school personnel advised many of them early in their school careers to transfer into lower tracks due to their average levels of performance in advanced courses.

After remaining in the lower track for many years, those students felt unprepared for advanced courses in high school. The opinions of teachers or other school personnel regarding their academic performance factored into the students’ choices to select less challenging courses, according to Borg.

“One reason many of these students’ counselors and teachers did not view them as AP-potential students is because of their lack of ‘social capital,’” Borg said. “Other researchers have reported that ethnic minority students do not possess the same level of social capital as non-minority students. In other words, these students to not have the same degree of the obligations and expectations from their teachers and counselors, and therefore may not receive the same access to information, regarding the future benefits of enrolling advanced-level courses.”

Borg argues against the approach to dissuade Hispanic students from enrolling in AP courses for the sake of a higher grade point average.

“Experience with advanced academic courses might be more important than earning an ‘A’ in every course,” she said. “Teachers and other school personnel should encourage these students to balance their desires for high grades with the benefits of taking advanced academic courses.”

Some of the students reported to Borg that they were concerned about how much time an AP course would take away from other life activities, such as the jobs they held or extra-curricular activities outside of school in which they were involved.

“If the school could have provided systematic facilitation and monitoring of the course selection plan starting early in their schooling, in addition to support provided by their parents, then these Hispanic students might have transferred a portion of the application of their work ethic into successful completion of AP courses,” she said.

Students mentioned relationships with parents and some teachers as key components to their success in high school, but they lacked consistent relationships with the school personnel who have the most knowledge about college preparedness, such as counselors.

Several participants sought advice from counselors, but felt they had to seek advice rather than have the counselors inquire about them. Overall, counselor relationships regarding ongoing planning and monitoring of course progress were unpredictable or nonexistent among the participants.

“Counselors should act as knowledgeable, academic advisers who set goals and monitor personal academic plans for such advanced Hispanic students,” Borg said. “They should receive professional development regarding cultural awareness and mentorship for success for counselors or teachers as they continue to advise Hispanic students. Or, more hiring should take place of Hispanic teachers or counselors themselves. A systematic advisement program implemented in middle school and monitored during high school might have facilitated these Hispanic students in their academic pursuits.”

Furthermore, Borg argues that school administrators should make concerted efforts to define and monitor further the counselor’s role in middle and high school, as well in the academic advisement of Hispanic students, especially in the area of advanced academics.

Although parents are not school personnel, Borg found them to be influential for the students. In fact, she said, “the supportive relationships most discussed by students were those with their parents.”

However, she said that the degree to which parents were informed about the necessary preparations for advanced courses varied among participants. Parents advised their children as to the importance of having a college education but were not necessarily knowledgeable about which high school courses prepared students to be successful in college.

“School administrators could consider offering parent training at all levels starting in elementary school in regards to college preparation,” Borg said. “Because parents play such an integral role for Hispanic students, perhaps groups of mentor parents could be formed who could assist other parents in obtaining necessary information to help their students select courses to prepare them for college.”

Borg also suggests that personalized graduation plans be made to focus on college/postsecondary outcomes for minority students.

“These plans should be monitored by knowledgeable school personnel in partnership with encouraging relationships at home that support the efforts of academic achievement,” she said.

While many of the students in Borg’s study perceived that it took a “super student” to be able to juggle all of the requirements for AP courses along with jobs and extra-curricular activities, they stated that they would give younger students the advice to take AP courses. They suggested that earlier planning opportunities should be given to students so that they know the value of staying in AP academic courses in middle school. Participants knew that their futures included college, but while reflecting on their past high school preparation, they still were unsure if they were prepared for college success.

“Although these students are relatively confident about their future, their success in completing college without the benefit of an AP course experience is yet to be determined for these advanced Hispanic students,” Borg said. “Now and in the future, school personnel need to have systems in place to support more ethnic diversity of students in academic programs such as AP courses.”

Researchers on this team also included College of Education professors Anthony Onwuegbuzie, Julie Combs, Rebecca Bustamante, Andrea Foster and George Moore.



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