Under-Resourced Students Increasingly Participate in AP Courses, but Inequities Persist

A bridge made up AP exam pages spans across two sides of a cliff and is held up by pencils.

A new study finds that while access to Advanced Placement (AP) has positively expanded over the last two decades, success on AP tests correlates with socioeconomic and geographic factors.
In the “The Role of Advanced Placement in Bridging Excellence Gaps” report, Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Andrew E. Scanlan examine the role of the AP program in addressing the nation’s excellence gap — the discrepancy between the percentages of young people with greater or lesser advantage who reach the highest levels of academic performance.

Drawing on research and data from their recent book Learning in the Fast Lane: The Past, Present, and Future of Advanced Placement, the researchers find that three key factors strongly correlate with a student’s success in Advanced Placement (AP) coursework and tests: family income, geography, and race and ethnicity.

The researchers examine which students participate in AP courses and succeed by earning scores of 3 or higher on the AP exams. Just 48 percent of low-income public high school graduates earn at least one qualifying score on an AP test, 17 points lower than higher income students.

“Myriad factors account for these disparities … and responsibility for closing these excellence gaps does not rest on the College Board alone,” states the report’s executive summary. The authors call upon states, school districts, philanthropic organizations, and other community partners to explore solutions that ensure students from all backgrounds will have access to AP coursework, as well as equitable support to success on the exams.

Read the report: The Role of Advanced Placement in Bridging Excellence Gaps


Support for this project was provided in part by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. Research projects funded by the Cooke Foundation examine issues that affect high-achieving students with financial need. The views expressed in this report are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Foundation staff members or Board of Directors.