9 Investigates: Not all CMS students receiving access to AP classes

by: Holly Maynard Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

Advanced Placement classes give high school students an edge when it comes to getting into college, but not all Charlotte-Mecklenburg School students have equal access to those classes.

A chemistry class at South Mecklenburg High School could be the key in helping these students get into college.

It's an Advanced Placement class designed to expose them to college-level instruction and students can get college credit for it.

"I think that they are very important. I think that access to those classes is critical," said Lynn Morton of Queens University.

Not all high school students in CMS have the same access to Advanced Placement classes.

New federal data analyzed by propublica.org shows that some schools in the wealthier parts of Charlotte offer more AP courses.

Of the 2,065 students at Providence High School, 8 percent get free or reduced lunch, 18 AP classes are offered and 30 percent of the students take at least one AP course.

But it's a much different picture for the 2,065 students at West Charlotte High School, where 70 percent of students get free or reduced lunch.

There, only eight AP courses are offered, and just 2 percent of students take at least one of them.

Eyewitness News found similar discrepancies when we compared other schools. Some in wealthier areas offer up to 23 different AP courses, while others in poorer parts of town offer far fewer.

"I think it's widely recognized that there's some inequity in our school system," said Morton.

But Morton, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Queens University, said it's a complicated issue.

"Simply adding more AP classes to a high school is not going to work. One thing you don't want to do is set up students to fail," said Morton.

Morton said the district needs to focus more on the younger ages and make sure students get the strong foundation they need to succeed in the advanced courses.

Eyewitness News took those concerns to CMS.

"The ideal of being prepared for an AP course can begin very early," said Shanda Martin, the Advanced Studies Specialist for CMS.

She said since new superintendent Heath Morrison started this year, there's been a new emphasis on listening to parents and teachers of all grade levels who are requesting more rigorous curriculums.

"Do you think there's an opportunity gap, an achievement gap here? Um, there's always an opportunity to expose students to more," said Martin.

Martin said it's important to note that many schools -- like West Charlotte High -- may not have as many AP classes, but they also offer other rigorous curriculums through IB (International Baccalaureate) programs.

The district does however see the need to encourage more AP classes too.

Martin said the district has placed a new focus on the "AP Potential" report to expand the curriculum.

It's put together by the College Board after students take the PSATs and shows which students have the potential to be successful in which AP classes.

"Well, I'm not satisfied with that," said parent Yolanda Parker.

Parker's son goes to West Charlotte High and plans on going to college.

She wishes the district had taken these steps years ago, so that her son's school offered more AP classes now.

"If they're not getting it, it's not fair. I feel like it should be across the board. It doesn't matter what side of town, what school it is, it's a CMS school, so why wouldn't they get it?" said Parker.

"I think until we are in a situation where every student is exposed to the same opportunities that we are always going to have an achievement gap," said Morton.

Morton said the hope now is that new leadership and a new focus on stronger curriculums can help close it.