Amid the bleak data on high school seniors’ college readiness (or lack thereof) is a bright spot: more than 70 high schools across Massachusetts are closing the college success achievement gap among underserved and low-income students through a STEM/College Success partnership with Mass Insight Education.

The program is designed to dramatically increase student participation and performance in Advanced Placement (AP) math, science, and English courses with the end goal of increasing student attendance and persistence in college.  And it’s working.  Among our report’s highlights:

  • Students at Mass Insight schools are three times more likely to enroll in an AP course than their counterparts in high schools with similar demographics;
  • 86 percent of Mass Insight students who graduated from high school through 2011 persisted from their first year to their second year in college; and
  • Of Mass Insight’s low-income high school graduates, 85 percent persist in college.
  • Almost a quarter of the low-income students in the program would likely have been screened out of taking an AP course in a traditional high school AP program – and yet those students are enrolled and persisting in college at rates higher than state averages.

See our full report for more information, and click here for highlights from an event at the Massachusetts State House to release the report.

Earlier this month, College Board released the 10th Annual AP Report to the Nation.  Overall, it was good news: the total number of students taking an AP exam almost doubled over the past decade, and the number of low-income students taking the exams almost quadrupled in the same time period.  By the numbers, this sounds great!  However, on deeper examination we see that there is still a big problem our high schools are facing: an equity problem.  Low-income students (defined for data’s sake as students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch) are not enrolling in AP courses (never mind taking AP exams) at the same rate as their higher-income peers.

On page 27 of the report, College Board provides the reader with a chart of the states and a slot for a checkmark to designate whether a state has eliminated the equity gap. Guess what? Not one state is checked off.  This data, buried toward the back of the report, should serve as a call to action for schools, partner organizations, and states to continue to provide low-income students with the same opportunities and support as their higher-income peers.

College Board 10th Annual AP Report to the Nation
(source: College Board 10th Annual AP Report to the Nation)

Our Mass Insight Education AP program has made strides in this area: in 2012 and 2013, schools enrolled in our program represented approximately 22% of the state’s low-income 11th and 12th grade enrollment.  Of those students, 37%  achieved a 3, 4, or 5 on their AP exams.  Initiatives such as ours, which focuses on providing all students the opportunity to enroll in AP, could have a major impact on closing the AP equity gap moving forward. In fact, African-American students in schools partnered in our program pass AP exams at the same rate that African-American students take AP exams in comparison schools.

If enough states, districts, and partner organizations can see the value in AP for all as a part of a multipronged approach to school improvement, perhaps in one of the annual reports in the near future we’ll see a few checkmarks in the table above.