Black American Students Less Likely To Take AP Math Courses Than White Students

A new study by New York University researchers applies a new method to measure student disparities between blacks and whites.

Salome Urena de Henriquez School NYC wikimedia

Although 24% of white students in New York City high schools enroll in at least one AP mathematics course by the end of high school, only 13% of Black students do so. Previous studies have suggested that disparities in AP enrollment are the result of pre-existing differences in academic preparedness, measured according to previous grades, standardized test scores, and course taking patterns.

But New York University researchers say that studies that use these variables directly in statistical models when evaluating academic preparedness are inadequate, because studies may either omit relevant factors related to academic preparedness, or include extraneous variables.

They found that when comparing black high school students to white students with similar academic preparedness, black students are still less likely to enroll in AP math courses.

“Common measured indicators of academic background, such as previous course grades and standardized exam scores, might be only partially related to students’ academic preparedness for AP courses, and so, by holding these factors constant, traditional estimates are not necessarily comparing the enrollment rates of students with similar levels of academic preparedness for AP,” says lead author João M. Souto-Maior, a postdoctoral fellow at NYU Steinhardt.

To address these shortcomings, Souto-Maior and his co-author, Ravi Shroff, associate professor of applied statistics at NYU Steinhardt School. developed their own definition of academic preparedness—students’ ex-ante probability that they would pass at least one AP math exam.

They analyzed New York City Department of Education longitudinal data from more than 40,000 public high school students in 9th grade in 2011 or 2012 and who advanced each year into the next grade until 12th grade in 2015 or 2016. Then, using detailed student- and school-level variables measured before AP math enrollment decisions occur (generally at the start of 11th grade), authors generated individual estimates of the ex-ante probability that each student would pass at least one AP math exam in grades 11 or 12, if they were to take at least one AP math course (i.e., AP Calculus AB, AP Calculus BC, and AP Statistics) and at least one AP math exam in these grades.

Their findings, published in Sociological Science, showed that black high school students in New York City are less likely to enroll in AP math courses compared to White students with similar academic preparedness.

"By estimating racial disparities in a way that mitigates limitations of previous work, we hope to. inform policies, like targeted outreach to students and parents, that can mitigate persistent racial gaps in AP course-taking,” said Shroff.

According to the website of NYC public schools, its budget for the 2023-2024 school year is $37.5 billion. New York City taxes provide 53% of the funding, while the State of New York provides 37%,and the Federal government and other sources provide 10%. 

In 2022-23, there were 1,047,895 students in the NYC public school system, which is the largest school district in the United States.There were 140,918 students enrolled in publicly-supported charter schools. Of all students: 14.1% were classified as English Language Learners, 20.9% were disabled, and 72.8% were economically disadvantaged. NYC public schools broke down their racial/ethnic classifications as follows:

41.1% Hispanic
23.7% black
16.5% Asian
14.7% white

Last year, the New York State Department of Education  released results of academic testing for public school students. 48% of students tested in grades three through eight were proficient in English Language Arts whereas 52% of tested students were proficient in mathematics. 82% of students were tested in ELA and 83% were tested in math. High school students showed 54% proficiency in mathematics, while 77% were proficient in English Language Arts. The graduation rate was 79.5% in 2023. 

In 2020, a report commissioned by New York City’s Young Men’s Initiative found the high school graduation rate for black males was 70% that of white males. For every 1,000 black males who graduate from high school, only 156 are ready for college or a career the report concluded.

The following were the top performing public high schools in the Big Apple:

High School Math Science and Engineering at CCNY
240 Convent Ave, New York, NY 10031

Townsend Harris High School
149-11 Melbourne Ave, Flushing, NY 11367

Queens High School for the Sciences at York College
94-50 159Th St, Jamaica, NY 11433

Stuyvesant High School
345 Chambers St, New York, NY 10282

Staten Island Technical High School
485 Clawson St, Staten Island, NY 10306

Topic tags:
society New York City Children Education