AP Enrollment and Equity in New Haven Public High Schools

Executive Summary

This report explores access to and participation in the AP program, which has been shown to have benefits in the college application and matriculation process, in New Haven’s public high schools. Using AP enrollment data from the Office for Civil Rights, the report finds that the AP programs throughout New Haven are underutilized and that white students are disproportionately over-represented in AP programs in each of the city’s interdistrict magnet high schools.


Students who participate in Advanced Placement (AP) coursework and testing are more likely to experience better outcomes in the college application process and in college performance. Across the nation, however, the students who reap the benefits from AP programs are disproportionately white, while black and Hispanic students are overwhelmingly underrepresented in AP participation. There are many factors that contribute to this reality, including self-segregation and ability tracking that occurs within schools, as well inequitable applications of the AP programs in schools that are comprised predominantly of students of color.

This report examines the breadth of AP programming in public high schools in New Haven, CT. In particular, it focuses on the enrollment of minority students in AP programs in New Haven’s interdistrict magnet high schools, which are designed in-part to increase academic achievement for students of color. Some aspects of the interdistrict magnets, such as their overall racial compositions, have been studied by agencies like Connecticut Voices for Children, but there has yet to be a study of the AP programs within these schools and how the AP programs affect minority students.

This report begins with background on the development of the AP program, the use of AP across New Haven public schools (NHPS), and reviews prior research on AP participation rates for students of color. It then utilizes AP enrollment data provided by the Office for Civil Rights to compare participation and performance in AP coursework and exams for black, Hispanic, and white students.[1] The report finds that the AP programs throughout New Haven are highly underutilized and that white students are disproportionately overrepresented in AP programs in each of the interdistrict magnet high schools. Ultimately, the report recommends a citywide initiative to encourage participation and engagement in the AP classes offered at each school, as well as an expansion of AP programs at interdistrict magnet schools that offer a maximum of three AP courses.


The Advanced Placement Program 

Advanced Placement coursework and testing plays a large role in the high school experiences and college application processes of many students across the United States and across the world. Founded in the mid-20th century, the Advanced Placement program was developed to provide college level curricula and test standards that could be implemented at a high school level to better prepare students for the rigors of postsecondary education.[2] Since the 1950s, the program has expanded substantially. In 2016, 2,611,172 students took a total of 4,704,980 AP exams, in contrast with the 1,229 students that took 2,199 exams in 1956.[3] In 2013, 33.2% of US public high school graduates took at least one AP exam, an increase of almost 15% since 2003.[4]

The increased prevalence of AP coursework and testing has impacted how students prepare for and perform in college and university settings.  Many universities value the presence of AP or International Baccalaureate (IB) coursework on a student’s transcript and may ask the student to provide their AP test scores on their university application.[5] With college preparatory curricula, AP coursework on a student’s transcript shows that they are willing to challenge themselves with a difficult course load, and test scores between 3, 4, and 5, where 3 is passing and 5 is the highest score possible, demonstrate a mastery of the high level material. At some universities, a score between 3 and 5 on an AP exam can translate directly into college credit for a student, allowing them to take more advanced classes or take less coursework overall during their time in college.

Over the last twenty years, a number of studies have been conducted to measure the effects of AP enrollment and test performance on college graduation and performance rates. For example, one 2009 study conducted by CollegeBoard, the company that administers AP, illustrated that higher performance on the AP English Language, Biology, Calculus AB, and US History exams resulted in higher first-year GPA’s in college, higher second year retention rates, and acceptance to more selective institutions, as compared to students who scored poorly on these AP exams or did not take the exams at all. Students who scored poorly on the AP exams still had better college outcomes than those who did not take the exams.[6]

Unfortunately, the benefits of AP course enrollment and exam performance are not extended equally across students of all races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses. According to a 2008 report from the Educational Testing Service, only 81% of black students attend public schools where at least one student is taking an AP exam, compared to 88% of Hispanic, 86% of white, and 94% of Asian students.[7] Black students are also more likely than students of all other ethnicities to attend high schools with less than three total AP courses in math, science, and English language. Low income students are less likely than high income students to attend a school where at least one person is taking an AP exam and are more likely to attend schools with limited AP options.[8] Even school does have AP options, this does not mean that a majority of students within that school participate in these courses. According to the same study, half of schools that offer AP courses experience less than 5% participation in the program. Furthermore, black, Hispanic, and low-income students are less likely to participate in AP exams than white, Asian, and high-income students, even when black, Hispanic, and low-income students are a majority within their own schools.[9]

There are many factors that contribute to why black, Hispanic, and low-income students have historically lower participation and performance in AP courses and exams than white, Asian, and high-income students. One factor is that the latter groups of students may have parents with higher levels of education and knowledge of the importance of AP coursework in the college application process. These parents might in turn encourage their children to take high level AP coursework and may also be able to afford to live in school districts with high schools that have extensive AP offerings and histories of excellent AP performance.

Some places across the US have attempted to mitigate these inequities in access and participation by ensuring that AP coursework is available and encouraged in all public schools in the district. In 2016, for example, New York Mayor de Blasio initiated “AP for All”, a push to bring AP courses to thirty-five public schools that had no AP classes in the 2015-2016 school year. De Blasio aims to ensure that 75% of New York’s public school students have access to at least five AP classes by 2018 and that all students will have access to at least one AP class by 2021. He hopes that increasing access to AP courses will also increase participation among students who have had historically low participation rates but could succeed within and benefit from an AP program.[10]

The AP Program in New Haven

Given the ongoing racial and socioeconomic inequities that have been documented in access to AP classes and exams, AP participation, and AP performance, these three categories serve as excellent metrics for measuring racial and ethnic inequalities within a particular school system. Do students of color have access to AP coursework within their available public schools? Does AP enrollment in a particular school reflect the proportion of students of color enrolled in that school? Are students of color passing their AP exams at the same rates as their white peers? These questions and the metrics of access, participation, and performance are particularly salient in considering the public school system in New Haven, CT.

Since the mid-1990s, New Haven has embarked on a voluntary desegregation initiative that is intended to increase rates of racial diversity within its public schools and improve academic outcomes for students of color, particularly those who are black or Hispanic. A major element of this process has been the creation of interdistrict magnet schools, which are designed to facilitate racial and ethnic integration by attracting white families from neighboring suburbs and to provide well-resourced facilities and curricula for New Haven students.[11] Since the beginning of the interdistrict magnet program in 1995, New Haven’s entire public school system has been converted into a system of choice. New Haven residents participate in the School Choice Placement Process, essentially a lottery system that distributes incoming students throughout the city’s neighborhood, magnet, interdistrict magnet, and charter schools. Suburban residents can also join the lottery for places in the interdistrict magnet schools, which reserve a certain number of seats for suburban residents to help facilitate racial and socioeconomic integration[12].

Maintaining a consistent and competitive AP program within the interdistrict magnet schools is a challenge compared to New Haven’s two comprehensive high schools.  Wilbur Cross and James Hillhouse, the two comprehensive schools, serve over 1400 and over 900 students, respectively, and both schools offer over ten AP courses. In contrast, each of the seven interdistrict magnet high schools is relatively small, with the largest serving 688 students in 2013. There is no consistency in the number of AP classes offered across the schools; in 2013, each interdistrict magnet high school offered between two and fourteen AP classes. The two largest schools, Hill Regional Career (HRC) and Cooperative Arts and Humanities (COOP), were the only two interdistrict magnets to offer ten or more AP classes.[13]

Having a multitude of AP courses in every neighborhood and interdistrict magnet school is good for the district—it provides opportunities for rigorous coursework to all New Haven residents and is likely a major attractor for white and affluent suburban residents who may consider sending their children to the interdistrict magnets. However, extensive AP programs are difficult to maintain and grow in schools with a smaller population and a sporadic history of AP participation in the classes that are offered. These competing motivations for the district may help to explain the lack of consistency in the size of AP offerings across the city.

Recent enrollment data suggests that twenty years after the start of New Haven’s interdistrict magnet program, only one of the city’s interdistrict magnet high schools, ESUMS, is currently meeting the city’s objectives of creating racially diverse schools with a minimum of 25% white enrollment.[14] What basic enrollment data cannot reveal, however, is whether or not ESUMS, or any of the other New Haven interdistrict magnet schools, are experiencing racial integration and offering advanced academic opportunities to students of color within the schools. Rather, AP enrollment data provided by the national Office for Civil Rights, which is disaggregated by race, gives some insight into what is going on within a school. The next section of this paper uses these data to compare access to, participation in, and performance on AP coursework and examinations between New Haven’s seven interdistrict magnet high schools and its two comprehensive high schools. In particular, the report seeks to determine whether the demographic of students enrolled in AP coursework in the magnet schools is more reflective of the school’s overall racial demographic than the AP courses offered at the comprehensive high schools.


Access to the AP Program

AP classes are available to students within most of New Haven’s public high schools; nine of ten high schools offer two or more AP classes. The one school which does not, Riverside Education Academy, currently operates as a magnet school for New Haven residents and is geared towards students who need additional behavioral support.[15] The New Haven Public School system, College Board, and the state of Connecticut cover the full cost of the AP exams for all students, so there is no explicit financial barrier to taking AP classes or exams. The NHPS website advertises that “every college-bound junior and senior” should be involved in the city’s AP program and relays the potential benefits of taking AP courses for student growth and the college application process.[16]

However, the number of AP courses available varies greatly among the nine high schools, ranging from two at Cortland V.R. Creed (formerly the Hyde Leadership School) to fourteen at the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School (COOP) in 2013.[17] With this large variation in courses offered across the city, there is also a large variation in student participation in AP coursework from school to school. COOP and Hill Regional Career (HRC), for example, offer the most AP courses among the interdistrict magnets, with approximately 25% of the student body taking AP classes in both schools. In contrast, Cortland V.R. Creed, which offers the lowest number of AP classes, has a much lower percentage of student participation, at 12.9%. The differences in course offerings and in student participation suggest that at the interdistrict magnet schools with more AP courses, students are more likely to participate in AP coursework and AP examinations.

Within New Haven’s system of school choice, the disparity in access to AP coursework could prove to be a source of inequity for New Haven residents and a factor that could discourage suburban families from enrolling in the city’s interdistrict magnets. Students from New Haven, who are more likely to be people of color and low-income, can apply to enroll in both neighborhood and interdistrict magnet high schools.[18] However, given the high levels of interest in the interdistrict magnets, there is no guarantee that New Haven residents will be able to enroll their children in any of their schools of choice, and students may in turn be shuffled into the two neighborhood schools or other magnets that are under-enrolled in a particular year rather than receiving a spot at an interdistrict magnet. Although the two neighborhood schools, Wilbur Cross and James Hillhouse, both offer ten or more AP courses, they provide very different learning environments than the interdistrict magnets, which have a much smaller student body and specialized curricula and resources. So, if a New Haven resident wants a high school with the benefits of a small, specialized program and an excellent AP program, they have to win the lottery and receive a spot at COOP or HRC, which are two of the most highly sought after high schools in the city.[19] Otherwise, the student risks being enrolled in a magnet school with limited AP options or a neighborhood school that has many AP options but a student body between 900 and 1500 students and low rates of AP participation.

For more affluent suburban families, a large number of AP courses and a school culture that values AP coursework may be a huge draw; in addition to attending a diverse magnet school, their children will be better prepared for college matriculation and the college application process. However, only two of the interdistrict magnet schools offer more than ten AP options, whereas the other five schools offer five or less. The two neighborhood schools both offer ten or more AP options, but suburban families cannot apply to these schools because they are not a part of the interdistrict network. Given the uncertainty associated with the School Placement Process- families may not receive any of their top schools of choice- suburban families risk being placed in an interdistrict magnet school with a very limited number of AP options, which in turn may deter them from applying or enrolling in NHPS at all. Whether or not the variation in AP offerings affects the decision of suburban residents to participate in the New Haven School Choice Placement Process has yet to be studied and could be an important topic for further ethnographic research. However, the logic of the school placement process suggests that it may be beneficial for each of the interdistrict magnet schools to develop AP programs that are competitive with COOP, HRC, Wilbur Cross, and Hillhouse. This could attract more suburban families and also ensure that every New Haven resident has equitable access to the benefits of AP regardless of where they are placed.

Participation in AP programs within NHPS

The analysis in the previous section highlights a wide variation in the availability of the AP program across New Haven’s public high schools. This variation may disproportionately affect New Haven residents and act as a deterrent in the city’s wider push to facilitate racial and socioeconomic integration. But, how does the AP program function within the nine schools within which it is available? Are students of color participating in the AP coursework that is offered, and are they performing at the same level as their white peers? This next section of analysis utilizes AP enrollment data from the national Office for Civil Rights in 2013 to shed light on these questions.

District-wide, student participation in the AP program was extremely low in 2013. Only 14.5 of all students in New Haven high schools with AP classes were taking at least one AP class, and, as Figure 1 indicates, the number of white students taking AP courses in New Haven was disproportionately high compared to the number of white students enrolled in the district. Furthermore, the percentage of students passing the AP exams was disproportionately white compared to the number of white students enrolled in the district and those who took AP courses. Black and Hispanic students were underrepresented in the population enrolled in AP classes, and a much smaller percentage of black students passed the AP exams than were enrolled in AP courses. On a district-wide scale, these data suggest that the AP program offered in New Haven is hugely underutilized, with an incredibly small percentage of students enrolled. White students are overrepresented in the populations of students participating in and passing AP coursework and exams, while black and Hispanic students are underrepresented.

Figure 1: Enrollment data from the Office for Civil Rights
Figure 2: Enrollment data from the Office for Civil Rights

As illustrated by Figure 2, participation in AP coursework is highly varied across both the comprehensive and interdistrict magnets school, and it seems like there could be a relationship between the status as an interdistrict magnet school, the number of AP classes offered, and higher rates of AP participation. At COOP and HRC, which offered 14 and 12 AP courses, respectively, rates of participation were above 20% of the student body. In comparison, the two comprehensive high schools, Wilbur Cross and James Hillhouse, which offered 12 and 10 AP classes, respectively, had participation rates just below or above 10%. Four of the remaining interdistrict magnet schools, which each offered less than six AP courses, experienced comparable participation rates to the comprehensive schools in spite of their limited course offerings. The data suggest that status as an interdistrict magnet school could foster higher rates of participation in AP coursework, especially when larger numbers of AP classes are offered.  To confirm this connection, it would be helpful to study trends in AP participation as the number of AP courses offered at each school has changed, and in many cases, increased, over time.

Looking within each of the schools in 2013, black students were consistently underrepresented in the schools’ AP programs compared with their overall enrollment in each school. Only three of the seven interdistrict magnet schools (COOP, HSC, and Corlandt V.R. Creed) enrolled black students in AP courses at a rate that is relatively close to (within approximately ten percentage points of) the schools’ overall enrollment of black students. At the remaining four interdistrict magnets, white students were disproportionately overrepresented in the AP courses, which means that although white students only comprised a small portion of the school’s population, they comprised a substantial portion of those taking AP classes. Of the two comprehensive high schools, only James Hillhouse, which enrolled less than 3% white students, enrolled black students in AP classes at a similar rate to their overall enrollment. Hispanic students are more proportionately represented in the AP classes in most of the schools. Their AP enrollment falls within ten percent of the schools’ overall Hispanic enrollment at Hillhouse, and at six of seven interdistrict magnets. This reflects research trends that show higher participation in AP classes across the country for Hispanic students, but could also be a result of external factors, such as the recent increase in Hispanic residents living in New Haven and its surrounding suburbs.[20]

Most of the schools did not have data available about the rates at which students passed their AP exams, and thus it is not possible to compare the rates at which students of color are passing their AP exams compared to their enrollment in AP classes. At the two interdistrict magnets that do provide this data, COOP and HRC, the percentage of black students passing their AP exams was substantially lower than the number of black students enrolled in AP classes, while the percentage of white students was higher. Hispanic students passed their AP exams at a higher rate than they were enrolled in the AP classes.

These data indicate that neither status as an interdistrict magnet school nor as a traditional comprehensive high schools means that black students are accessing the AP coursework and exams available at same rates as their white and Hispanic peers. While this is not surprising, given previous research that has revealed similar trends, it is noteworthy given the fact that the interdistrict magnet schools are designed to promote academic performance for students of color and provide equitable opportunities to students of all races and ethnicities. There are many reasons why these disparities could exist from school to school: many of the schools allow students into their AP programs on the basis of a teacher recommendation, which could depend on a student’s previous behavior or GPA. The disparity in access to AP programs across the interdistrict magnets could also play a role; the interdistrict schools with limited numbers of AP classes may have less of a school culture of taking AP, and thus engage less of the students in these predominantly black and Hispanic schools.


This report has highlighted the benefits of AP enrollment and completion and used AP enrollment data to demonstrate that these benefits are not being accessed equitably by all students in New Haven’s public high schools. Black students are less likely than white and Hispanic students to enroll in the AP courses offered at their schools, and all students that are New Haven residents risk uncertainty in the school choice lottery which could place them in a school with an excellent AP program, or one with only two course offerings. Furthermore, AP coursework is highly underutilized in NHPS, with only 14.5% of all New Haven high school students in the nine schools with the AP program taking at least one AP class. As a district that is trying to increase academic achievement for all students and particularly those of color, there must be a greater effort to engage all high school students in taking AP coursework, or in other advanced programs, such as the IB program, which are not currently offered by NHPS but that have similar benefits for college admittance and persistence. This could be accomplished by providing district wide incentives, for example, scholarship money, to students participating in AP coursework. Schools could also be encouraged to make participation in at least one AP class a requirement for graduation.  Furthermore, the AP programs at schools with less than four AP classes should be expanded so that they are competitive with other New Haven high schools that have five or more AP classes. This will provide a more equal opportunity for students to reap the benefits of AP classes even if they are not placed in a magnet school with a flourishing AP program and will provide an incentive for more suburban families to apply to New Haven schools if there is a wealth of excellent options to choose from.


Thank you to fellow student Clare Carroll for reading and editing a draft of this paper for me. Many thanks also to Dr. Mira Debs for providing insight and guidance into this research topic, and for teaching me the research tools needed to find and work with enrollment data.

End Notes

[1] Asian students are excluded from this discussion because there are not enough Asian students enrolled in most of the interdistrict magnet high schools for relevant data findings and comparisons.

[2] “A Brief History of the Advanced Placement Program,” The College Board, 2003, http://www.collegeboard.com/prod_downloads/about/news_info/ap/ap_history_english.pdf.

[3] “Annual AP Program Participation 1956-2016,” The College Board, 2016, https://secure-media.collegeboard.org/digitalServices/pdf/research/2016/2016-Annual-Participation.pdf.

[4] “10 Years of Advanced Placement Exam Data Show Significant Gains in Access and Success; Areas for Improvement,” The College Board, 2014, https://www.collegeboard.org/releases/2014/class-2013-advanced-placement-results-announced.

[5] Daniel Gilbert Solorzano and Armida Ornelas, “A critical race analysis of Latina/o and African American advanced placement enrollment in public high schools,” The High School Journal 87, no. 3, 2004, 16.

[6] Krista D. Mattern, Emily J. Shaw, and Xinhui Xiong, “The Relationship between AP Exam Performance and College Outcomes,” The College Board, 2009, https://research.collegeboard.org/sites/default/files/publications/2012/7/researchreport-2009-4-relationship-between-ap-exam-performance-college-outcomes.pdf, 12.

[7] Phillip Handwerk, Namrata Tognatta, Richard J. Coley, and Drew H. Gitomer, “Access to Success: Patterns of Advanced Placement Participation in U.S. High Schools,” Educational Testing Service, 2008, https://www.ets.org/Media/Research/pdf/PIC-ACCESS.pdf, 16.

[8] Ibid, 3-4.

[9] Ibid, 19.

[10] Ben Chapman, “EXCLUSIVE: De Blasio’s ‘AP for All” push will offer city high schools new Advanced Placement courses,” Daily News, 2016, http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/ap-push-offer-city-high-schools-new-ap-courses-article-1.2670164.

[11] “An Act Concerning School Choice and Interdistrict Programs,” The Committee on Appropriations , By William R. Dyson, Connecticut General Assembly Cong, 6950, January 1999, https://www.cga.ct.gov/ps99/fc/1999HB-06950-R000694-FC.htm.

[12] Brian Zahn, “Parents learn Wednesday if child got into school of choice in New Haven,” New Haven Register, 2017, http://www.nhregister.com/social-affairs/20170404/parents-learn-wednesday-if-child-got-into-school-of-choice-in-new-haven.

[13] Data from the Office for Civil Rights.

[14] Data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

[15] “Transitional Schools,” New Haven Public Schools, http://www.nhps.net/node/419.

[16] “Advanced Placement Program in New Haven Public Schools,” New Haven Public Schools, http://www.nhps.net/node/2643.

[17] Office for Civil Rights. The number of AP courses taught at each school has changed since 2013 in some cases; however, because the most recent full data set from the OCR is from 2013, all references to AP coursework refer to data from 2013.

[18] “New Haven Demographics Profile,” areavibes, 2017, http://www.areavibes.com/new+haven-ct/demographics/.

[19] “Last Year’s (2016-2017) Applicants and Placements & Projected Seats for School Year 2017-2018,” New Haven Public Schools of Choice, 2017, http://newhavenmagnetschools.com/images/2017-Applicants-Placements-Data.pdf.

[20] “More Latinos, Fewer Whites and Blacks,” New Haven Independent, 2011, http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/more_latinos_fewer_whites_and_blacks/;  Phillip Handwerk, et. al, “Access to Success,” 18.

Works Cited

“A Brief History of the Advanced Placement Program.” The College Board. (2003.) http://www.collegeboard.com/prod_downloads/about/news_info/ap/ap_history_english.pdf.

“Advanced Placement Program in New Haven Public Schools.” New Haven Public Schools. http://www.nhps.net/node/2643.

“An Act Concerning School Choice and Interdistrict Programs.” The Committee on Appropriations. By William R. Dyson. Connecticut General Assembly Cong, 6950. (1999.) https://www.cga.ct.gov/ps99/fc/1999HB-06950-R000694-FC.htm.

“Annual AP Program Participation 1956-2016.” The College Board. (2016.) https://secure-media.collegeboard.org/digitalServices/pdf/research/2016/2016-Annual-Participation.pdf.

Chapman, Ben. “EXCLUSIVE: De Blasio’s ‘AP for All” push will offer city high schools new Advanced Placement courses.” Daily News. (2016.) http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/ap-push-offer-city-high-schools-new-ap-courses-article-1.2670164.

Handwerk, Phillip, Namrata Tognatta, Richard J. Coley, and Drew H. Gitomer. “Access to Success: Patterns of Advanced Placement Participation in U.S. High Schools.” Educational Testing Service. (2008) https://www.ets.org/Media/Research/pdf/PIC-ACCESS.pdf.

“Last Year’s (2016-2017) Applicants and Placements & Projected Seats for School Year 2017-2018.” New Haven Public Schools of Choice. (2017.) http://newhavenmagnetschools.com/images/2017-Applicants-Placements-Data.pdf.

Mattern, Krista D., Emily J. Shaw, and Xinhui Xiong. “The Relationship between AP Exam Performance and College Outcomes.” The College Board. (2009.) https://research.collegeboard.org/sites/default/files/publications/2012/7/researchreport-2009-4-relationship-between-ap-exam-performance-college-outcomes.pdf.

“More Latinos, Fewer Whites and Blacks.” New Haven Independent. 2011. http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/more_latinos_fewer_whites_and_blacks/.

National Center for Education Statistics.

“New Haven Demographics Profile.” Areavibes. (2017.) http://www.areavibes.com/new+haven-ct/demographics/.

Office for Civil Rights.

Solorzano, Daniel Gilbert, and Armida Ornelas. “A critical race analysis of Latina/o and African American advanced placement enrollment in public high schools.” The High School Journal 87, no. 3 (2004): 15-26.

“Transitional Schools.” New Haven Public Schools. http://www.nhps.net/node/419.

Zahn, Brian. “Parents learn Wednesday if child got into school of choice in New Haven.” New Haven Register. (2017.) http://www.nhregister.com/social-affairs/20170404/parents-learn-wednesday-if-child-got-into-school-of-choice-in-new-haven.

“10 Years of Advanced Placement Exam Data Show Significant Gains in Access and Success; Areas for Improvement.” The College Board. (2014.) https://www.collegeboard.org/releases/2014/class-2013-advanced-placement-results-announced.