Addressing the Race Gap in AP Classes


Elsa Dunn, Reporter

Across the nation, Advanced Placement (AP) classes are filled with a majority of white students. This imbalance can be very concerning for several reasons. 


At Novato High, 49.3 percent of students are white, while a little over 50 percent are minority (36.3 percent Hispanic/Latino, 6 percent Asian, 4.3 percent two or more races, 3 percent African American, .8 percent Native American, and .4 Pacific Islander). However, these demographics don’t correlate to the demographics of the AP classes.


White students make up about 70 percent of AP class rosters at Novato High. The total white enrollment of AP classes is approximately 676 students and the minority enrollment of AP classes is approximately 281 students.


There is no direct reason why this is, but throughout the country, many wonder if this can tie into white privilege and white students being put at an advantage, essentially elevating their chances of getting into college and graduating sooner once they get there.


Novato High counselor Nonie Reyes shared her opinion.


“We need to do some diving into the ‘why.’ There is an overlap between socioeconomic status as well as race demographics. How we can tease that out will make classes more equal. It would help a lot to demystify AP classes, and break down what they consist of,” said Reyes. “Creating a culture where all students are made to feel welcome (in AP classes) would be helpful. I think there has also been a tradition where there’s only announcements (of AP classes) in AP classes, versus in all classes. The other thing that will help is having summer AP bootcamps, this can make AP classes less scary.”


Tradition and encouragement within families can be reasons as to why students take AP classes. If a student’s parent took AP classes in high school, that student could be more likely to also follow the AP path. When a student’s parent hasn’t gone to high school or college, it can be difficult to decide whether or not an AP class is right for them. Additionally, many students rely on counselors or teachers to guide them when planning their schedules. 


AP US History teacher Tim Mahoney expressed his thoughts. 


“So I definitely have noticed that AP classes seem to be predominantly Caucasian,” Mahoney said. “I know that our counselors don’t actively discourage anyone from taking AP classes, they let anyone take it who signs up for it. But it is undeniable that these classes are predominately white. We don’t really recruit minority students very well.” 


Mahoney added possible factors for the disparity. 


“I think that there is an intimidation factor. When someone who has only been speaking English for four or five years looks at an AP class and is like ‘damn everyone in there is white and speaks good English,’ it can be intimidating,” Mahoney said. “We should have some presentations possibly in Spanish for them. We don’t encourage minority students to sign up for AP’s, but we don’t discourage or prevent them. It should be required for all AP teachers to go to all the classes and talk about their AP class, to make their face present and less intimidating.”


Although some can conclude that a potential language barrier can be a component of the imbalanced numbers, there are only 105 English Language Development (ELD) students (out of the total number of students, which is 1,378). Clearly, this is not a direct correlation of the race gap. 


Novato High has been attempting to tackle this issue. At the beginning of the school year, there was an AP fair during lunch to expose and promote the variety of AP classes that students could take. 


Novato High counselor Marie McMahon also shared her view on the gap.


“The counseling team as a whole is very passionate about closing any gap that exists. We want any student to be able to take an AP class, that’s why this year we had the AP fair,” McMahon said. “We wanted everyone to have a chance to talk to an AP teacher or ask any questions and see if it’s right for them. Every time I talk to a kid, I don’t care about their background, social economics, race, I don’t care. If they’re ready for an AP class, I’m gonna get them in. Individually, is where I think I can do the most.”


Novato High might not have the answers on how to close the race gap in AP classes, but bringing light to this issue, and exposing the inequality that exists is a step in the right direction which will hopefully lead to equal representation for all races across high school classrooms.