Only 19 percent of Black students at Riverside take AP and honors courses. Here’s why.

While Rebecca Stone taught Advanced Placement (AP) US History at Riverside for about five years, she liked helping students be successful in advanced classes. 

This year she became Riverside’s Advanced Academic Specialist. Part of her new role includes identifying students that have the ability to do well in AP classes but aren’t plugged in yet. 

“I’ve always been interested in what is the work that we do to support all students, and how we can help provide the best possible experience for all students,” Stone says. “When this job option became available, I jumped at the chance to do it.”

Stone often worked with other AP teachers to make classes more enjoyable and accessible for students. Things like guided notes and tutoring sessions helped some of Stone’s students succeed.   

According to data collected in 2017 by the Civil Rights Data Collection, white students make up 22.8 percent of Riverside’s student body, and 43.2 percent of them participated in a dual credit/enrollment program (Advanced Placement classes and/or dual enrollment programs with a local community college). Black students make up 39.4 percent of the student body, yet only 18.9 percent participated in a dual credit/dual enrollment program. In other words, Black students outnumber white students at Riverside, but not in advanced classes. 

Stone believes the disproportionate numbers of white and Black students in AP classes and dual credit/enrollment programs is due to a lack of proper academic representation, along with other systematic issues. 

“I think it’s hard for kids when they don’t see themselves in a class,” Stone said. “If our ninth and tenth grade students don’t see themselves or people who look like them in our eleventh and twelfth grade classes, not many of them are going to be taking those classes, it is not something that inspires them.”

Stone says students of color need to see teachers who look like them leading advanced classes. This lack of proper academic representation doesn’t just occur in the classroom.The number of black public school principals are also low. 

According to the U.S. Department of Education: The State of Racial Diversity in the Workforce, 10 percent of public school principals were black while 80 percent of school principals were white in 2011-12. 82 percent of public school educators were white and just 18 percent black. 

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics suggests little has changed in the past ten years. Roughly 70 percent of North Carolina high school principals were white in 2017-18 and only 24 percent were black. 

This lack of proper representation can be due to a lack of teacher support and encouragement. 

“I think teachers can be doing things that make their classes more accessible. I taught AP US History here for several years before moving into this role [Advanced Academics Specialist] and I gave a lot of lectures. I started making videos of my lectures so students would have access to things that we did not have time to talk about in class. It was something besides a textbook” Stone explains.

A National Issue

Black and/or African American students in the graduating class of 2013 were the most underrepresented group in Advanced Placement classrooms in the United States. 

According to the tenth annual AP Report to the Nation State Supplement for North Carolina in 2014, 18,954 White graduates in the class of 2013 took an AP exam during high school compared to 3,601 Black/African American students in the same year. 

North Carolina’s percentage of Black students in AP classrooms (13.1 percent) is higher than the national average (9.2 percent). Still, the number of African-American students in AP classrooms in North Carolina are extremely disproportionate.

Durham Public Schools Success

Durham Public Schools is higher still. As reported by the Civil Rights Data collection in 2017, nearly half of the district’s Black students took an AP or college-level class during high school. .

Laura Parrot previously served as DPS’ coordinator of advanced academics and is now the district’s director of advanced academics. She has been with DPS for seven years and accredits the success of diversity in advanced classes and programs to the many strategies DPS has implemented over the years.

“One of the big changes that we’ve done is implementing portfolios as part of the [Advanced Placement] identification process,” Parrot said. “That has been really great at finding more students, a greater diversity of our student population of identification at the middle and high school level.”

By considering students’ past successes, Advanced academics specialists at DPS high schools have an easier time identifying more students who are eligible for advanced classes. 

Another strategy the district has implemented is getting rid of teacher recommendations for enrolling in an AP class. 

“It used to be that when students wanted to take an AP class, they had to get teacher recommendations to enroll,” Parrot said. “We did away with that.” 

An article written by the W.E Upjohn Institute for Employment Researches, a non-profit organization that studies the ways policy impacts employment and unemployment, titled Who Believes in Me? The Effect of Student-Teacher Demographic Match on Teacher Expectations describes research that has shown evidence of systematic bias in teacher expectations for African-American students. Non-black teachers were found to have lower expectations of black students than black teachers.

Before this policy was enforced, schools in North Carolina like Southern High School required recommendations from teachers to apply for an AP class. This approach could allow for teachers to exercise their biases toward black students by refusing to write recommendations and/or not recommending AP classes to Black students at all.

Riverside’s results lag

If DPS has all of these policies and programs in place, why hasn’t Riverside adjusted? 

“Riverside has some work to do,” Parrot Said. “AP teachers may not be aware that students may walk down the hallway and look in a classroom and say, ‘you know what, no one in there looks like me. I don’t want to be a part of that class.’” 

Riverside has only had an advanced academic specialist for two years. One of those years during the 2020-21 school year when school was completely virtual. 

“We saw a drop in all of our schools for AP. Now you’ve got Mrs. Stone involved and we feel confident that things will start to change,” Parrot said.

To make up for lost time, both teachers and administration at Riverside have to make these classes and programs more accessible for students and family. 

The district is working on similar initiatives at many different schools to make advanced classes a more viable option for students, families and educators. 

“What we are doing is equipping teachers to have the instructional tools to be able to address the needs of all students,” said DPS Advanced academics coordinator Jamel Anderson-Ruff. “Learning loss is real, especially with COVID. That’s another way that we can bring in students and make students feel comfortable.” 

“There is an AIG specialist at almost every high school which is a big investment on the part of Durham public schools,” Anderson-Ruff said. They support and encourage students. They also make sure students know their opportunities. We are also doing a lot to work with families and students. Family outreach ensures that our families and students know what the opportunities are.”

Stone believes Riverside has been improving. Many AP teachers at Riverside are trying their best to make classes more accessible for students. 

“How do we as a school kind of think about who’s not taking our classes?” Stone said. “How do we let kids know that there are opportunities out there for you?

“Let’s say we do a curriculum fair, where we show students what it is like in these classes.” she said. “We are trying to target young leaders to encourage others. Kids can kind of see more about what the classes are about and see people who look like them enjoying it.” 

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