Eye of Editors

The mantra  “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is instilled into the minds of all Americans, solidified through the very culture and blood of our country. However, while it is something all Americans have and will continue to strive for, the blunt truth is that the opportunities to do so are vastly unequal, something perpetrated by the unequal access to quality education.

This gap for intellectual opportunity, normally restricted to the classroom, has only been exacerbated by the spread of Advanced Placement tests. While highly regarded as a reflection of individual knowledge, AP exam scores fail to acknowledge the influence of effective and ineffective teaching. And while self-studying may help students achieve their desired scores, the fact that students feel less prepared than others for the exam, even before studying, signifies that  their opportunities to earn college credit are inherently unequal. 

Although it may seem that some of us Diamond Bar High School students are the victims of this disparity, ironically, our school is probably seen as the epitome of quality education by other schools across the nation. And I can see why. On average, our teachers get paid more and receive more funding for supplies, compared to other states, leading our school to have an extremely high average pass rate of 87 percent. While it’s true that many DBHS students are self-motivated to study, it cannot be pinned down as the sole factor for success. Some schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District have average AP pass rates of as low as 13 percent, and even though they have students equally motivated to succeed, these students’ teachers did not build the same foundation for success as the teachers of a student from DBHS. 

Take the AP United States History class as an example. For context, the APUSH exam consists of a multiple choice section and a free-response section regarding nine time periods of US history. At DBHS, all of our teachers taught and reviewed all nine units of history, leaving time to practice responding to writing prompts. However, students from other schools have reported their teachers being unable to complete the curriculum before the arrival of the AP test, and still others were unaware of the point requirements of the writing prompts. Although a lack of historical knowledge can be remedied through self-studying, discovering the most effective formula to respond to prompts can be overwhelming, and nearly impossible, without the guidance of a teacher. 

Because of this, the unequal opportunity for success on AP tests is seen as a teacher issue, while in reality, the issue is much more systemic. Not only are Black, Hispanic and American Indian students less likely to enroll in an AP course—an entirely separate issue for another article—but they are also significantly less likely to pass an AP test and receive college credit compared to white and Asian students, according to calculations by the US Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection. It is an undeniable fact that students at underfunded high schools are often Black, Hispanic and American Indian. So even when they have the opportunity to take AP classes, the lack of funding to hire experienced teachers and provide the resources needed to create an up-to-date lesson plan widens the educational gap and discourages higher education. 

Fortunately, with great online resources like YouTube, Khan Academy and even artificial intelligence, students can work to close the educational gap. However, much more must still be done so that extensive self-study is not the only way to bridge the AP gap. While there is no one, complete solution for this systemic issue, it is integral that all students have an equal opportunity for success on tests, and therefore future educational endeavors.