Predicting underrepresentation: Understanding who has access to advanced courses in Virginia


Even diverse high schools in the United States are often internally segregated, with Black and Latinx students underrepresented in advanced courses and overrepresented in lower-level courses. This article moves beyond national trends to unravel the patterns and predictors of course access in just one state. We drew on publicly available district, state, and federal data from the 2017 school year in Virginia to understand the relationship between underrepresentation and the number of Advanced Placement courses offered, the number of levels of state-tested courses, the number of prerequisites set for courses, and the timing of when students take algebra. We found that tracking, requiring prerequisites and offering courses at multiple levels, was common and that Black and Latinx students were underrepresented in advanced courses. Black and Latinx students’ underrepresentation was predicted by the timing of algebra, but not by other possible bottlenecks. Implications for research and policy are discussed. 


In this paper, we use Office of Civil Rights data to understand who is accessing advanced courses in Virginia and what predicts that access. 

What we found is, first, that Black and Latinx students continue to be underrepresented in advanced courses in Virginia.

Second, we found that when students took Algebra 1 was highly predictive of their later course taking. Students who took Algebra 1 late were much less likely to take Algebra 2 or Chemistry. These findings have implications for policy makers looking to create meaningful changes in who has access to advanced courses in school districts.