Essay The Leaky Pipeline of Advanced Placement Testing
An Essay for the Learning Curve
Kristen Hengtgen, Kimberly Lent Morales
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Florida has long emphasized increasing access to accelerated curricula. It is 1 of 12 states that provides funding for students to take Advanced Placement (AP) tests, in an effort to ensure cost does not prevent students from taking the test and potentially earning college credit. In 2020, Florida had the nation’s highest AP test participation rate, according to the College Board. But even as Florida has worked to ensure equal access to advanced courses and the benefits that come with them, racial disparities remain.

Key numbers

  • Though 25 percent of all students take an AP class, only 15 percent of Black high schoolers do.
  • About 1 in 10 enrollees in Florida’s AP classes do not take any tests.
  • Among AP course enrollees, Black students are least likely to take the test, with 15 percent taking the class but not the exam. Four percent of Asian AP students, 11 percent of Hispanic AP students, and 9 percent of white AP students do not take the test.
  • AP students in smaller, more rural districts are less likely than average to take an AP test. For districts with less than 2,000 students, the average test-taking gap is 37 percent.



Taking the AP test, and not just the class, is key. Not only is the test the gateway to earning college credit, but research emphasizes that passing an AP test, rather than just taking a course, is a better predictor of college success. Even when students take an AP exam but earn a low score, they still tend to attend more selective institutions and are more likely to return for their second year of college than students who do not take any AP exams.

Although Florida has emphasized expanding access to accelerated curricula of many kinds across the state, access is only part of the equation. Despite Florida’s work to eliminate the financial barrier and encourage test taking, not all students benefit equally from the state’s investment in advanced courses. It is important to do further qualitative research to understand the phenomenon behind the test-taking leak, focusing on the needs of smaller, more rural districts. In the meantime, policymakers and educational leaders should consider what prevents students from taking the exam and the policy levers that can increase test taking aside from financial incentives.

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Additional Resources

Research Areas Education Race and equity
Policy Centers Center on Education Data and Policy