Black Enrollment in AP Surges in Montgomery

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 20, 2006

Montgomery County public schools this year passed a milestone in college preparation: Half of the 9,737 black high school students are enrolled in honors or Advanced Placement courses.

Five years ago, barely one-third of African Americans participated in such classes, despite the county's reputation as a national leader in college prep. Now, a black student in Montgomery is more likely to take an AP test than a white student elsewhere in the nation.

Josephine Kalema, 17, is one of those students. She is Wheaton High School's senior class president, captain of the pom squad and a newly minted assistant manager at Dunkin' Donuts. With some of her Wheaton High classmates, Josephine has helped the school system move toward parity for its black students.

Kalema took all the honors courses available to her in the ninth grade, then progressed into AP. As a senior, she is taking AP geography, calculus and English literature. She partly credits her counselor, Scott Woo, with her advancement.

"It's always been Mr. Woo saying, 'I think you can take this class,' " she said.

The county's achievement is striking because the national surge in Advanced Placement testing has largely left black students behind.

AP testing doubled nationwide in five years -- from 1.1 million exams taken in 2001 to 2.3 million this past spring. But black students remain underrepresented in AP classes.

Last spring, only 4 percent of black students in Virginia high schools and 5 percent in Maryland sat for Advanced Placement exams, about one-third the rate for all students. In the majority-black D.C. system, about 5 percent of black high school students took AP tests.

AP tests, and the courses that precede them, are designed to replicate the college experience. Students who earn scores of three or higher on the five-point scale of AP typically can qualify for college credit. Participation in either AP or its counterpart, International Baccalaureate, is now more or less expected by admissions officers at some competitive colleges, who want applicants who take the most rigorous courses high schools offer.

The College Board, which administers the AP program, reported last winter that although AP participation had increased everywhere, just two states with small black populations, Hawaii and South Dakota, had eliminated the participation gap between blacks and whites.

Hispanic students, by contrast, had closed the gap with non-Hispanic whites in 11 states, including Maryland, and in the District.

The AP gap persists between blacks and whites in Montgomery schools, despite a countywide effort to identify and recruit students of all races with potential for college-level study. But a new report on AP and honors study suggests blacks are starting to close the gap. And that is trickier than it sounds, because students across the board are moving up.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company