Black and Latino students in California score better on AP tests than peers elsewhere
By Sonali Kohli, LA Times | http://lat.ms/1L7LF98
California SAT scores show 41% of test-takers are ready for college
By Joy Resmovits , LA Times | http://lat.ms/1ECFZqK
3 September 2015 :: Black and Latino students in California who passed Advanced Placement exams outperformed their peers elsewhere, but a gap persists between them and their white and Asian counterparts, according to new test score results.
In addition, the number of underrepresented minorities — black, Latino and Native American students — who took the tests is higher in California than elsewhere: 38.9% of test takers in the state compared with 26.2% of all test takers, according to 2015 results from the College Board.
The AP program allows high school students to take high-level classes for college credit. It also provides a boost for college admission and can help students more quickly place in advanced classes in college.
Black students in California performed significantly better than their counterparts outside the state: Nearly 43% in California had a passing score of 3 or higher out of 5 on at least one exam, compared with 32.3% elsewhere. California Latinos also did better: 53.1% received a 3 or higher on at least one test, compared with 50% elsewhere.
White students in the state also outperformed their peers elsewhere: 73% had a score of 3 or higher on a test, compared with 66% outside the state.
About 71.5% of Asians in the state scored a 3 or higher on a test, compared with 72.2% elsewhere.
The number of students, particularly minorities, taking AP classes and tests is growing, both in California and the country. Districts are removing stringent entrance requirements such as grades, admission tests and teacher recommendations that disproportionately keep students of color out of these classes.
In L.A. Unified, pass rates have decreased from 41.5% in 2008 to 38.7% this year. (Unlike the College Board, the district considers all the tests taken rather than the number of students who passed at least one test. Many students take more than one exam.)
But more students are taking the tests, district data show.
Equity is not just about opening the door to the classroom. But thinking about, 'What do we need to do to offer them the support they need once they get there?' - Nicole Mirra, the University of Texas at El Paso
Making these classes available to more minority students is a positive move despite the fact that scores may decrease when that happens, said Nicole Mirra, an assistant professor in English education at the University of Texas at El Paso who has studied disparities among California high schools.
Whether or not they pass the test, the students are exposed to higher academic standards and classrooms in which college is considered a viable option for them, she said.
To ensure that these students succeed, however, districts should start preparing low-income students and students of color for AP classes as early as elementary school and continue that support in AP classrooms, Mirra said.
“Equity is not just about opening the door to the classroom,” she said. “But thinking about ‘What do we need to do to offer them the support they need once they get there?'”
The racial makeup of AP classes in L.A. Unified has changed from 60% Latino in 2007-2008, to 68% in 2014-2015, while the white and Asian populations have decreased. Black students continue to represent only 7% of AP students, even though they are 10% of the student population.
In L.A. Unified, the pass rate was lower for black and Latino students: 21.7% and 33.5%, respectively.
It's difficult to explain the discrepancies without more data, said Patricia Gandara, an education professor and co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.
Gandara said she would like to see data that show the income levels of the racial groups taking the tests; the College Board said that information will be available next month.
“We have tremendous wealth and we have tremendous poverty” in California, Gandara said.
Students from higher-income black and Latino families could account for the better results because the number of those students taking AP classes remains relatively low. Additionally, Gandara said, they may have the parental support to encourage them to enroll in AP classes.
L.A. Unified's performance might rely on a number of factors, Gandara said. The district has a much higher poor population than the state: three-fourths of L.A. Unified students are on free or reduced-price lunch, a poverty indicator, compared with 59% in the
Additionally, the L.A. Unified numbers don't include results from independent charter high schools, which had nearly 43,000 students last year and are growing. Those independently run campuses have been shown to take better-performing students from low-income and minority communities, Gandara said, adding that that trend could skew the district's results downward.
3 September 2105 :: California students continued to perform at about the same level as their peers across the country on the SAT college entrance exam, according to newly released scores.
In California, 241,553 students — 60.4% from the graduating class of 2015 — took the test, and, on average, they scored 1,492 out of 2,400 points. Nationally, the nearly 1.7 million test takers scored an average of 1,490.
California's average score is about 28 points down from 1,520 in 2006. The newer scores reflect what College Board President David Coleman called a "larger and more diverse group of students than ever before."
The overall decrease in average scores shows that more students are getting the chance to apply for college, but according to Christina Theokas, director of research at the Education Trust advocacy group, that's not enough.
"The focus on opportunity is great, but we need to shift the focus to mastery," she said. "If we want to create opportunity for all students, we need to make sure all students are actually prepared for the test."
The College Board, the private nonprofit company that owns the SAT, asserts that scoring a 1,550 or higher means that a student is ready for college. Across the country, nearly 42% of students met that benchmark, compared with 41% in California.
"We know we absolutely must do better in the future," said Cynthia Schmeiser, the College Board's chief of assessment.
As seen on other exams, the scores reflect achievement gaps between various ethnic groups: 20.2% of Latino test takers and 21.4% of African Americans in the state reached the readiness target, compared with 41% of students statewide. The College Board did not break down that statistic for Asian or white students.
The 1,550 benchmark represents a 65% likelihood of getting a B- or higher during the first year at a four-year college, according to the College Board.
The SAT tests students on critical reading, math and writing. Each section has a maximum score of 800 points.
The newly released scores reflect the last complete set of results from the current version of the SAT. Beginning in March 2016, the test will reflect a major overhaul.
Although the College Board has not said so explicitly, its description of the new exam — more critical thinking, less rote memorization — mirrors that of the Common Core State Standards, a set of learning goals that Coleman helped create. While the next round of results will reflect many students who took the current exam, 2015 was the last year in which students could only take the current version.
The new SAT will focus more on testing the mastery of academic words rather than the obscure vocabulary for which the test had become notorious. There will be no penalties for wrong answers, and the essay section will be optional — though some California colleges, such as University of California schools, are expected to continue to require it for admission.