In my Advanced Placement English class, I teach 70 eleventh graders who made a choice to take on a college level English class as high schoolers. This is possible through The College Board’s Advanced Placement program, which requires students to take an exam at the end of the year that has the potential of earning them college credit, all before having to step foot onto a college campus. Students nationwide are attracted to these courses due to the financial benefit they bring and the competitive edge they give them over other applicants. However, as much as my students possess the grit and passion needed to be successful in my class, I have become aware of the huge disparity we are facing in the area of vocabulary, reading, and writing.
On any given day, we spend class time reading collegiate level texts that require a lexile level to match them, which only a handful of my students currently have. We’ve discussed resources and strategies they can use to overcome the road bumps in the texts that are primarily higher level vocabulary words. Upon being frustrated by a term, one of my students sighed heavily and told me that this test wasn’t meant for them, it was meant for “white kids who knew these words.” While her comment definitely caught me off guard, I acknowledged the particular challenges we face as a community when faced with tests like AP Exams, the SAT and the ACT. I shared my own experience with her and our initial conversation turned into a rich, whole-class discussion. My students have a hunger for expanding their vocabulary and even took the initiative in creating an “SAT Word Wall” that we add one word to every class, after studying its definition and using them in sentences to further internalize the new words. This system has been our latest success as a class community, but it still doesn’t eradicate the inequity my students are bound to face after leaving my class.
Due to similar reasons as the ones my students and I are discovering this year, the University of California system is facing pressure to eliminate the SAT and ACT requirement from its admissions process due to the disparities it creates for low income, underrepresented minority students, according to the LA Times. Lawyers that represent the Compton Unified School District sent this letter arguing that the test discriminates against the highest needs applicants. The letter also stated that the number of colleges that required these exams is decreasing, and the UC should follow in these footsteps. The Compton school board president, Micah Ali, told the LA Times that “this is an issue of equity and access to opportunity for children who are living in marginalized and struggling communities.” While I’m confident my students are developing the skills needed to excel in higher education, it’s also true that many of the systemic and bureaucratic barriers they will face will offer additional obstacles as they attempt to become the first in their families to attend and graduate from college.
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