Administrative Practices and Underrepresentation of Ethnic Subgroups in Advanced Placement

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Research has demonstrated that students in AP programs have higher levels of achievement, college level preparedness, notably higher grades, and higher levels of undergraduate completion than those enrolled in standard, non-advanced placement high school classes (Kettler & Hurts, 2017). Since the research and data shows that AP classes do benefit student success rates in college, the administrative practice of admitting underrepresented ethnic subgroups needs to be examined. Ideally, students should be admitted solely on merit, however, there are many sides to uncover. 

Additionally, research indicates that students’ early academic placement may carry them throughout their academic careers, particularly college (Gonzalez, 2016). Thus, it is important for educators to understand how some students, like minorities, fall behind. This disparity in tracking has been visible for certain ethnic subgroups during the course of their academic careers. 

A data driven analysis of this current student disparity is necessary for educational success. For instance, despite the academic success associated with AP courses, Hispanic, African-American, and Native American students are much less likely to be enrolled in AP courses than European and Asian students, even when they have equivalent levels of readiness (College Board, 2016). Based on this, it is clear that AP programs have not reached out to encourage all subgroups to enroll, which results in unbalanced access and missed opportunity. A lack of minority presence in AP classes has negative implications for education, class, and professional gaps in college and beyond (Kettler & Hurts, 2017). 

If high school administrators could identify and then address the underrepresentation of ethic subgroups in AP courses, then promotional aspects could be created to encourage all qualified students to enroll (Gonzalez, 2016). If high school administrators could visibly see the underrepresentation in certain academically qualified ethnic subgroups, then school officials could reach out to discuss and facilitate AP course enrollment. This would lead to more equal levels of academic and professional success later on as well. However, many school educators and officials do not have visible data about ethnic subgroup AP enrollment. Additionally, they may not have an understanding of how this underrepresentation affects academic and professional disparities later on in life, as well as significant social change and equality. Administrative practices could begin to address this problem, if visible data and enrollment statistics were more readily available.

Role of Administrators

Furthermore, this study can help administrators understand the importance of academic support designed to increase the enrollment of ethnic subgroups in AP courses. Specifically, public school administrators have the tremendous challenge of preparing students for college in a school culture that produces unequal results for various sub-groups (James, Butterfield, Jones, et al., 2017). Therefore, data is paramount. By examining when and which ethnic subgroups go missing from AP course enrollment, administrators will be able to pinpoint what year (9th, 10th, 11th, or 12th grade) students decline or become unaware of their enrollment opportunity in AP classes. 

By law, equal opportunity principles and structures exist in all schools, regardless of academic level, socio-economic standing, or location. However, motivational influences…form beliefs about capabilities (Bandura, 1991, p. 128). As a response to this limitation sometimes found in young individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds, schools need to provide support systems for students. Whether through guidance counselors or larger programs, firm support systems are needed to address a lack of motivational influences while increasing enrollment in AP programs at the same time. In large, public school institutions, support systems can be limited or entirely absent, even though the need is crucial.

Concrete findings and improvements made towards balancing all ethnic subgroup enrollment in AP classes can result in significant positive, social change. School administrators need to develop a broader understanding and firm implementation procedures regarding programs, policies, and support systems which can improve the enrollment of ethnic subgroups in AP courses.

While it may seem that AP class enrollment is only a small part of larger social inequalities and implications, this is not true. Equally represented ethnic subgroups in AP classes means that students and communities are doing their part to ensure that equal opportunity starts in youth. Higher enrollment rates of ethnic subgroups in AP courses correlates to better college preparedness and higher admission rates for all students. Studies show that academic advancement, beginning with AP classes, can steer the majority of students towards higher levels of academic and professional success. Consequently, this results in the decrease of poverty rates, income inequality, and higher adult income earning potential.

The creation and implementation of alternative support systems will help ensure fair access for qualified students, create balanced representation, in addition to enriching academic experiences across all levels. This study will help education officials to identify subgroup enrollment gaps for all academically qualified students. This ensures equal opportunity and access. This can transform gaps and flaws in the current educational system.


Evidence shows that AP courses are important considerations made by college admissions departments because it is a sign of college level and professional preparedness (Kettler & Hurst, 2017). Certain public high school institution may be at a disadvantage. Studies show that public schools have the tremendous challenge of preparing students for college in a prejudiced system and school culture that produces unequal results for various sub-groups (James, Butterfield, Jones, & Mokuria, 2017). Data shows that there is an absence of support systems that encourage minorities and low socio-economic students to participate in AP courses. 

Students who come from more stable economic backgrounds have higher academic success rates in high school, college, and beyond. A recent study found that middle and high-income students at schools with AP classes are three times as likely to enroll in such courses as low-income students (James et al., 2017). 

For public high school institutions that consist of students from lower income families, the complete absence of honors and AP classes is problematic. Studies show that “a quarter of high schools with the highest percentage of black and Latino student do not offer Algebra II; a third of these schools do not offer chemistry” (Civil Rights Data Collection, 2014, p. 1). One recommendation is to ensure that AP classes are available at all high school educational institutions regardless of location or student socio-economic backgrounds. AP class availability should be mandatory.

Additionally, studies show that black and American Indian students participate at about half the rate of the national average, even if AP classes are available. Approximately only 9% of Hispanic students enroll in AP course (James et al., 2017). These gaps indicate the missing students from specific ethnic subgroups based on lower socio-economic levels. Their absence often goes unnoticed and unchallenged by their teachers, parents, and other academic officials. 

One of the potentially powerful results of data driven studies examining this disparity would be to explore the “support gaps” that cause this noticeable difference in enrollment. By acknowledging and examining the data and connection of underrepresented ethnic subgroups, low socio-economic levels, and a lack of sufficient enrollment support systems, improved ethnic representation can be achieved in AP classes through change.

Research by Rowland and Shircliffe (2016) established the importance of “early intervention” and support systems in high school for all students. This is important for academic, cultural, social, and economic reasons. For example, early exposure to AP courses and its benefits are associated with higher student participation in these types of programs in high school and beyond (Rowland & Shircliffe, 2016). This suggests that education-based interventions and newly created educational guidelines and requirements can improve student enrollment, if it is based on clear evidence. Data needs to show specific subgroup underrepresentation in order to know which groups need stronger support. Additionally, that data needs to show potential outcomes in its potential success rates in changing minority participation. Only then can sufficient academic support systems be changed or newly created.

However, there are studies that show that educational interventions or new guidelines aimed at increasing equal ethnic representation may not work. For instance, one study found that availability and participation in AP courses is driven strictly by resource allocation and financial support (Warne, Larsen, Anderson & Odasso, 2015). If a school has limited discretionary income, professional educators may not be able to make changes to academic support systems based on time or monetary constraints. Therefore, creating new support programs aimed at encouraging or reaching out to underrepresented ethnic subgroups (especially in a large, public school), may be financially or structurally impossible. 

Given the socio-economic, cultural, financial, and structural complexity of this problem, educational data and research needs to address the role of professional educators as “gate keepers” to the AP process. They need to be advocates for equal access for underrepresented minorities in AP classes. Uncovering methods that may assist educators is problematic. However, educational data shows the enrollment gaps. If statistical data was widely recognized, studied, and acknowledged, public high schools and larger systems might be able to allocate time, resources, and funds to ensure equal and fair enrollment. 

Problem Statement

The problem that this study will address is the insufficient understanding and application of administrative practices to support representation of ethnic subgroups in high school AP courses to improve their ability to enter and do well in college. 

Evidence that the Problem is Meaningful to the Discipline

It is recommended that significant, additional research into administrative practices that could improve the representation of minorities in AP programs be conducted at the earliest date in order to provide greater illumination on the issue as stated. Rowland and Shircliffe (2016) have called for better understanding into effective administrative support systems to prepare underserved students for AP courses. This would address the knowledge gap in relation to understanding if educators have the resources they need to complete this task. An analysis of current research affirms that there is a gap in knowledge about the best administrative practices that will engage minority subgroups and encourage them to develop their academic strengths (Callahan, Moon, & Oh, 2016; Giersch, Bottia, Mickelson & Stearns, 2016; Olszewski-Kubiluis, Sternbergen, Thomson, & Rosen, 2016). Furthermore, this in-depth analysis of the general problem should also concurrently address the additional need for developing reasonable modes of increasing resource allocation for these educators. 

Purpose Statement

The purpose of this study is to thus explore the under-representation of minorities in AP courses with the intent of implementing interventions that promote equitable access to education resources. In addition, a secondary purpose of this exploratory case study is to create a deeper understanding of administrative practices that are intended to improve representation of ethnic sub-groups in AP courses. The inquiry will be framed by social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1991) in order to examine the administrative practices in light of self-efficacy in minority students. This will be described in greater detail below in the Conceptual Framework section later on in the research project’s additional material.

The setting will consist of two high schools in a suburban district in Southern California in order to gauge the effectiveness of the overall mandates put into practice for this particular location.  Data analysis will develop a more comprehensive description and understanding of administrative practices that may successfully address the research problem, once a complete examination of the school systems analyzed for this research project. A deeper understanding of all variables within these two schools will of course be dependent upon what will be required to examine all relevant facets to the discussion. In addition, gaining access to school records will be conducted through the process of asking permission to do so from administrators, teachers, and parents of all students who participate. 

Research Question(s) (Qualitative)

The following qualitative research questions will be used to frame the conditional knowledge-based inquiries to be discovered later on in subsequent chapters. 

(1) How do current administrative practices, intended to improve representation of ethnic sub-groups in AP courses, align with social cognitive theory?

(2) What new administrative practices might be planned to improve representation of ethnic sub-groups in AP courses and how might they align with social cognitive theory?   

(3)  How do administrative communications and other observable practices align to social cognitive theory? 

Research Question(s) and Hypotheses (Quantitative and Mixed Methods)

In order to better understand this situation it would also be important to understand more empirical data in this regard. 

(1) How many minority students enter the AP program at these schools? 

(2) What is the mathematical ratio of students to teachers at these schools and within the framework of these AP programs? 

(3) What level of education do the teachers have at these two schools? 

Conceptual Framework (Qualitative)

The conceptual framework in this research is based on the social cognitive theory. This theory states that observation, imitation, modeling play a significant role in the process of learning through social interactions (Bandura, 1993). Therefore, the basis for learning through the modalities presented here with this research needs to factor in the surroundings of the students being examined; including their peers, teachers, and ultimately those family members with whom they have the most contact. Regardless of the actual setting, social cognitive theory states people will be influenced by those around them. 

Theoretical Foundation (Quantitative)

The foundation for the above referenced questions in regards to empirical data is based on the idea that (1), increasing the amount of children in these programs will demonstrate a high level of efficiency in improvement; (2), that by increasing the number of teachers per student it will have a wholly positive impact on their academic success rates; and (3), the assumption that having teachers will more education in their backgrounds will increase the odds of total success in implementing changes to the AP program enrollment. 

Nature of the Study

The nature of the study is one based on the microcosm that is the world of the scholastic setting. If, in the natural world of a school, certain members are allowed to fall behind it will soon become the extension of the rest of the social environment beyond this initial phase. Indeed, one could make the argument that this has already transpired, as much of the research has seemed to indicate that when minorities do not succeed in school they tend to fall behind all the faster once in a workplace setting; if they are to even find gainful employment at all. With little to no achievement in school, these individuals are more likely to be involved in criminal activities, make less money, and fail to fully function well in society. 


Some relevant terms have already been discussed and defined; such as advanced placement, which is the placement into certain programs within the framework of some high schools across the country for the specific purpose of improving students’ ability to eventually succeed in college. Others like social cognitive theory have also been defined but this term is so important it will continue to be highlighted and detailed throughout the rest of the project as needed. 


One extremely glaring assumption on the part of this research is that there is a systematic, institutional basis present in these school systems and this is the underlying cause of minority students (Black and Hispanics) falling behind their white and Asian peers. No mention of intellectual ability, differences in the racial cultural in regards to family life and expectations, or the responsibility of these students’ parents has been mentioned. Yet ultimately these concepts are extremely pertinent to the overall discovery of the root cause of this situation. It is both unfair and unscientific to simply assume racism or racial bias is the singular issue in regards to this situation and thus a more balanced perspective should take place within this research’s general framework and specific directives. 

Scope and Delimitations

Though the full scope seems problematic at times in that it could theoretically encapsulate the entire school system in the United States, for the time being it will be relegated to these two schools in California. To extrapolate further out would be disingenuous until conclusions are better understood and delineated by increased knowledge. The delimitations would be to keep the parameters of this specific study to the two schools at hand and only focus on what is found there. In order to best illustrate the particulars involved in this location, and thus not to make too many assumptions beyond this focus, it will be justified to limit the parameters of the research to these California schools.  Future research may in fact go beyond this scope but suffice it say this project will not. 


There are of course certain limitations to how this research is carried out and its final conclusions/recommendations. The primary limitation is the previously mentioned scope yet in reality this is one of the strengths of the study because it allows greater focus. Furthermore, the limitation of the location, as well as the ability to glean the right amount of data from these schools, are also considerations; test scores, parents’ permission, teachers’ credentials, and other aspects all fall under the sphere of the possibility of not receiving the full support of the schools’ administration officials. Overcoming these obstacles will of course be dependent on the amount of rigorous fieldwork completed. 


The potential significance to this research cannot be understated, for the totality of the impact on society when children are left behind in their scholastic pursuit is simply untenable. Higher crime rates associated with truancy issues, more drug problems, greater unemployment, etc., have all been categorized as being centered on a lack of education fulfillment. Therefore, the significance of the findings could enable greater achievement for many minorities students who have become lost in the education system. 


Within the framework of gleaning a better understanding on why and how minority students are falling behind in placement in AP programs, it is hoped this research will illuminate further the possible administrative solutions therein. Conducting the research at these two California schools, with the full participation of all relevant stakeholders, should grant greater knowledge on this subject and eventually lead to a better assessment of current practices and ultimately better outcomes for all minority students. 



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