In Class-Action Lawsuit, ACLU Says CA Students Are Denied Equal Access to Advanced Placement Courses

July 27, 1999 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES — The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California today filed a civil rights class-action lawsuit in State Superior Court on behalf of public high school students who are being denied access to advanced placement courses.

Following the dismantling of affirmative action programs under California’s Proposition 209, the ACLU said the State’s failure to assure “equal and adequate access” to advanced placement courses further perpetuates educational inequalities, particularly for students enrolled in lower income, predominantly African-American and Latino schools.

The ACLU’s lawsuit, the first of its kind in the state, charges that California’s failure to provide access to the program violates the Equal Protection Clause and the Education Clause of the California Constitution. The State’s Constitution identifies public education as a fundamental right, thus making the State obligated to correct inequities in the school system.

“California is flunking out when it comes to educating these students,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Legal Director of the ACLU of Southern California. “This is a two-tiered educational system. In the face of its own data, with its eyes wide shut, California places hundreds of thousands of its children on uneven playing fields sodded with quicksand.”

The students named Davis v. State of California, all of whom attend high schools in the Inglewood Unified School District, are academically qualified to take advanced placement courses at their schools and have expressed a desire to participate in the program. But Inglewood High School offers only three “AP” courses.

The problem is hardly isolated to Inglewood, the ACLU said. Beverly Hills High School, whose student body is 76.6 percent white, offers 14 different AP subjects and 45 AP classes, while Arvin High School, where 93.2 percent of the student body is African-American and Latino and of a lower income, offers only two AP courses.

The advanced placement program was developed more than 40 years ago by the College Board, a national not-for-profit educational organization, and is administered by the Educational Testing Services. The program allows qualified and motivated high school students to take college-level course material, culminating in an exam at the end of the year.

Participation in the program serves several purposes. AP courses are traditionally more challenging and demanding than regular and honors courses, providing for greater intellectual and scientific development.

Completion of the course provides students with an extra point in the University of California’s calculation of their grade point average (GPA) when considering admissions, allowing advanced placement students to earn a GPA above a 4.0 “perfect score.”

In 1998, for example, UC Berkeley rejected 8,000 applicants whose GPAs were 4.0 or higher, choosing to accept students with higher GPAs due to their enrollment in AP courses. Achieving a score of 3 or higher on an AP exam also enables students to earn college credit, thereby reducing the cost of tuition and allowing students to opt out of certain introductory classes.

The ACLU’s lawsuit argues that African American and Latino students, and those from a lower income bracket, are being systematically marginalized from attending California’s most prestigious public universities due to glaring disparities in the availability of AP classes.

“Although California has been in the forefront nationally in offering AP courses, such courses must be made equally available to minority and poor students who have the capacity and drive to achieve in higher education,” said Rocio Cordoba, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California.

“There is no reason why such students should be denied the ability to compete equally for admission to California’s elite universities,” she added, “or to succeed in college degree programs, simply because their schools did not provide an adequate AP program.”

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