Shut Out: Why Black and Latino Students are Under-Enrolled in AP STEM Courses

2 in 5 Black & Latino students say STEM courses are their favorite. But only 3% are enrolled in AP STEM.

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April 21, 2022 by Kayla Patrick, Jonathan Davis, and Allison Rose Socol


2 in 5 Black and Latino students say they really enjoy STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) courses and aspire to go to college, but less that 3 percent are enrolling in STEM courses. Many aspiring young Black and Latino students across the nation who show a love for science early on and express an interest in pursuing it as a career, want to discover something new, to make a difference, and to help their families and their communities.

Unfortunately, nearly 225,000 Black and Latino students are missing out on AP Courses they should otherwise have access to while in high school.

The Education Trust teamed up with Equal Opportunity Schools to look specifically at access to AP STEM courses. We analyzed student survey data, administrative school files, school course enrollment, and interviewed 10 school leaders and educators across six districts.

We found that Black and Latino students and students from low-income backgrounds are being denied access to AP STEM opportunities such as AP Biology, AP Physics, and AP Chemistry, despite voicing interest in going to college and pursuing a career in a STEM field. In fact, our analysis shows that for many Black and Latino students, STEM courses are their favorite subject areas.

Why then are they not enrolled in these courses?

Systemic causes for under-enrollment include:
  1. Reliance of education leaders on s student’s persistence or assumptions about their intelligence instead of addressing barriers that make it difficult for students to enroll
  2. Reliance on single denominators of readiness, such as GPA and test scores

To increase enrollment of students of color in AP STEM courses, leaders must create positive school climates where students of color feel safe and have a sense of belonging, where they interact with adults who have high expectations for them, there they receive adequate information on how to access AP STEM opportunities, and where they have rigorous, culturally relevant, and identity affirming curricula.

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