California Lawsuit Notes Unequal Access to AP Courses

The State of California is denying its low-income and minority students equal access to education by depriving them of the Advanced Placement (AP) classes available in more affluent, suburban high schools, according to a recent lawsuit.

By Joanna Dupuis

The class-action lawsuit notes that only three AP courses are offered at Inglewood High School in Los Angeles County, a school that is 97% African-American and Latino. In contrast, nearby Beverly Hills High School offers 14 AP courses; only 8.8% of its students are African-American or Latino.

The suit was filed in July by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California on behalf of four students at Inglewood High.

“This is a two-tiered educational system,” says Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the local ACLU. “One is designed to intellectually challenge students and prepare them for college. The other offers least-common-denominator courses that disadvantage its most promising students.”

Students who take AP courses have a greater advantage when they apply to college. Students get five points for an A earned in an AP class, but only four points for an A earned in a regular class. The average high school grade-point-average of applicants to UCLA was 4.19 last year. If a school offers few or no AP classes, its students will be at a competitive disadvantage in college admissions.

The ACLU suit seeks to force schools to provide “an equal and adequate program of AP studies.” “The most tragic thing is that many schools do not believe they have kids who are smart enough to take AP classes,” says an associate dean of the graduate school of education and information studies at UCLA. “When we give students rigorous academic opportunities and provide them with well-trained teachers, students learn.”

In addition, a study last spring by the Department of Education found that the quality of the high school curriculum is a far better predictor of who will get a bachelor’s degree than grade-point average or test scores. “It is better to take a tougher course and get a low grade than to take an easy course and get a high grade,” said researcher Clifford Adelman.