The education system today is quite complex, with so many different options of Advancement Placement (AP) classes, International Baccalaureate (IB), honors programs, etc. Not only are there many options but different districts around the country offer different things and some do not offer any advanced courses at all. This can be incredibly stressful to students applying to college who might be wondering if their class load is impressive enough for their top university choices. Brianna Freshwater, a junior studying sociology and anthropology with a minor in religious studies, is tackling this issue and more in her research project: In the Schools but Not the Classrooms: Advanced Placement Test-Taking in Schools Serving Predominately Students of Color.
Brianna began her journey with Rotunda Scholars, an SMU program for first year students from underrepresented communities and the Honor Sophomore Seminar. She chose this topic because of her own experiences growing up in a rural, predominantly white school district that did not have a single AP course. Brianna wanted to know how that experience impacted her and her fellow classmates since AP classes “felt like a big deal everywhere else.”
Through her research, Brianna discovered that it does not matter what is offered at your school, rather it matters how much students take advantage of the opportunities that are available in their schools because “schools look at you in context.” Her research goes into this further seeing how AP course taking matters and how they vary across race and socioeconomic status in urban schools. Brianna is looking specifically at DISD campuses and seeing what courses are offered, how many seats are offered, etc. She wants to understand what campuses are “performing at expected rates” by looking at PSAT scores to determine if students are prepared to take AP courses. She is also talking to faculty members about policies and how they approach the topic of higher education with their students.
This project is doubling as Brianna’s Engaged Learning Fellowship as well as her distinction project for her sociology major. She has had research experience in the past as well with the Cooper-McElvaney Fellowship as well as McNair Scholars. All these experiences have helped her with thinking about the world in different ways. They have also helped her long-term goal of wanting to go into a PhD program and have pushed her to be unafraid to pursue research.
Most importantly, Brianna wants this project to be able to give schools specific information about how they can make AP programs at their respective campuses more equitable. She hopes to be able to literally hand information to schools to make plans for the better. Brianna does not want research to feel like it is “stuck in universities” with little to no real-world application. By bridging the gap between academic literature and real-world application, Brianna believes in the ability to make change.