“Advanced Classes? They’re Only for White Kids”: How One Kansas School Is Changing the Face of Honors and Advanced Placement Courses

From Section:
Multiculturalism & Diversity
Nov. 01, 2014

Source: Action in Teacher Education, Volume 36, Issue 5-6, p. 480–489, 2014.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study focused on students enrolled in the advanced history classes.
It aimed to obtain an accurate picture of minority student enrollment in advanced placement (AP) classes at Wichita (Kansas) High School East.
Prior to this study there was no clear, concise data to move this discussion into the solution phase.

The research was conducted in 35 social studies classes ranging from Grade 9 to Grade 11 over the span of year and a half.
Data included enrollment numbers, assessment scores, class grades, and teacher recommendations, and were collected through state Department of Education, School Report Card and other sources.


The author found that 43% of the ninth-grade students enrolled in the advanced history classes were White compared to the data revealing that 53% of the 11th-grade students enrolled in the advanced history classes were White.

The author was interested in developing a plan of action to close the achievement gap between White and non-White students.
She determined that the initial action needed was to disseminate the data to teachers and administrators to increase their awareness of the high school’s current status.

The next step was identified: each teacher would examine a class list of students and their current academic schedule; teachers would recommend the student’s abilities to be enrolled in advanced classes with H for recommendation for honors or A for recommendation for AP.
If the teacher was unable to recommend a student for either honors or AP, then the teacher was required to provide an explanation using the code of AB for academic ability, AT for attendance issues, or B for behavior issues.

The next step was to investigate the students who did not receive an H or AP recommendation even after the teachers were made aware of the each student’s situation.
Then, several interventions were initiated to increase social studies enrollment in Honors and AP classes.
Some of the students’ names were taken to the counseling staff, and a meeting was facilitated with the senior counselor, the administrator in charge of social studies, and some of the students.
Students were shown the data and were guided in understanding the data indicating the teachers’ recommendations of the students’ abilities in advanced history classes.
The students were encouraged to embrace the idea of challenging their potential.
Furthermore, a Vertical Team was established for social studies teachers of sixth- through 12th-grade classes.
The curricular content for all of these classes was discussed, carefully analyzing the knowledge and skills.
Strengthening the discussions was the high school teachers who had received advanced history class training.

Based on their discussions detailing the expectations associated with high school advanced history classes, particularly the concepts and skills that the classes require, the middle school teachers submitted their student recommendations for ninth-grade advanced history classes.
Those lists were collected, and just like the high school data were analyzed, the Vertical Team members searched for students with similar data.
Increasing awareness of the situation with the middle school teachers and administrators and involving them in the solution had a major impact on this study, the students, our schools, and the community.


The results of initiating this purposeful pursuit of increased non-White student enrollment in advanced history classes were, in one year, as follow: overall student participation in advanced classes increased from 23% to 34%.
Enrollment in advanced history classes by ninth graders increased from 16% to 26%, decreasing the gap between 11th-graders’ enrollment in advanced history classes and ninth-graders’ enrollment in advanced history classes.
Non-White student enrollment in advanced history classes increased 1% in the Black population and 1.5% in the Hispanic population, still leaving a large gap between non-White and White student enrollment in advanced history classes.

Awareness of the situation and increases in non-White student enrollment in advanced history classes resonated throughout the school building, and now departments other than social studies have begun their own initiatives to address this situation in their advanced classes.

The positive results of this study were the enhanced teacher awareness, their new ownership of the situation manifested through the formation of Vertical Teams, and the increased overall student enrollment in the advanced history classes.
The teachers, administrators, and community were pleased with the increased student interest in pursuing higher-level curricular content.
The study and actions undertaken by the East High School social studies teachers reaped many positive outcomes combatting the feelings of futility often expressed by classroom teachers for effecting change that makes a difference.

Updated: Dec. 07, 2019
Achievement gap | Action research | Education practice | Minority ethnic students | Social studies