The Role of Advanced Placement in Bridging Excellence Gaps

Writing for the Fordham Institute, Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Andrew Scanlan recently reviewed their research on the role of advanced placement courses in narrowing achievement gaps. Excerpts from the piece appear below: 

This report presents key findings from Learning in the Fast Lane: The Past, Present, and Future of Advanced Placement, a book by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Andrew E. Scanlan.

American education has long been plagued by excellence gaps among the young people who make it into the highest levels of academic performance. Disadvantage, race, and gender matter far more than they should. Narrowing such gaps is imperative for a K-12 system that seeks both excellence and equity, and the Advanced Placement (AP) program is already making a major contribution, albeit one that could and should become even greater. Drawing on Finn’s and Scanlan’s important new book, this report-prepared for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation examines AP’s role in helping students from underserved populations achieve high levels of academic success. It looks closely at differences in AP participation and exam success by geography, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, as well as AP’s contribution to and potential for narrowing troubling gaps. 

The report lauds the gains in AP participation among poor and minority youth while urging greater attention both to further gains on that front and to strengthening their AP performance.  Given AP’s capacity to help students prepare for college, gain admission, and succeed upon arrival there, expanding access to it remains an important national endeavor. States, school districts, philanthropies, and education reformers should redouble their efforts to ensure that students from all backgrounds have access not only to AP coursework but also to the preparation and supports needed to succeed on the exams. To do otherwise would wall off an important path to upward mobility, sustain societal inequalities, and constrain opportunities.

For more commentary, see 

For more information on Finn & Scanlan’s book, see