Education leaders plan to commit $100 million to identify and enroll more low-income and minority students in advanced high school classes.
Education leaders plan to commit $100 million to identify and enroll more low-income and minority students in advanced high school classes. - 
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High school students across the country are nervously cramming for Advanced Placement exams, which begin next week. But, there won’t be nearly as many minority and low-income students taking the tests as there could be.

According to the College Board, which runs the AP program, in 2013 about 15 percent of graduating seniors in the U.S. were black. But, black students made up only about 9 percent of AP test takers. That same year — the latest for which reliable comparisons are available — low-income students made up 48 percent of the high school population, but only about 28 percent of AP test takers.

Access to advanced high school courses is only part of the problem. The majority of high schools in the U.S. offer some AP classes. The larger problem, experts say, is participation.

"There are about 650,000 missing students per year — low-income students and students of color — who would participate in advanced courses in their high schools if given the opportunity to participate at the same rate as other students," says Reid Saaris, president of Equal Opportunity Schools, a non-profit that works with schools to increase that opportunity.

EOS is among a group of education and business organizations — including the College Board, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, Tableau Software, the International Baccalaureate Organization and Google — spearheading a $100 million commitment, "Lead Higher" aimed at getting more under-represented students into AP and International Baccalaureate classes.

The initiative, announced Tuesday, aims to identify and enroll 100,000 new students in AP and IB courses during the next three years, and increase by five-fold the number of schools that fully reflect their school population’s diversity in those classes.

Research shows high-achieving minority and low-income students are often overlooked when it comes to AP and IB programs. Saaris cites several reasons, including perceptions by educators that certain students are not "right" for advanced classes, and a lack of information among parents and students about AP or IB.

Natalie Rodriguez Jansorn, director of strategic initiatives for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, a "Lead Higher" partner, says students who participate in AP courses are more likely to enroll in college, and succeed when they get there.

"In particular, we know that there are a significant number of low-income students who are not even being invited or encouraged into AP courses," she says.

Interactive by Dan Hill and Cindy Santini

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Follow Adriene Hill at @adrienehill