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Who takes advanced courses? 

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The MERC Equitable Access and Support for Advanced Coursework study was commissioned by the Policy and Planning Council in December of 2019. This study will occur in two phases.

Phase One - Regional Analysis of Advanced Coursework Policies and Patterns

Phase one will focus on a regional analysis of advanced coursework policies and patterns and will include a secondary data analysis and policy analysis.

Secondary Data Analysis

MERC researchers will analyze student course taking and performance data from the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS) over the past 10-13 years in the MERC region. This will help us understand the landscape of advanced course taking and how it varies by students’ race, SES, gender, EL, and disability status.

RQ1: What are the trends, patterns, and disparities in advanced course taking in the MERC region?
RQ1a: Who receives gifted and talented services in the MERC region?
RQ1b: Who takes algebra I in middle school in the MERC region and how do students perform?
RQ1c: Who takes honors, advanced placement, dual enrollment, and IB courses in the MERC region and how do students perform in these courses?
RQ1d: What are the patterns of advanced courses taking in the MERC region from elementary through high school and how does this relate to postsecondary outcomes?

Policy Analysis

We will review federal, state, and division level policies related to the provision of advanced coursework. This will help us understand the policy infrastructure promoting or inhibiting equitable access and support to advanced courses.

RQ2: What are the policies focused on advanced course taking in the MERC region and how do they relate to equitable outcomes in advanced coursework?
RQ2a: What are the national, state, and division level policies guiding the provision of advanced coursework in the MERC region?
RQ2b: How do MERC divisions identify students for gifted services?
RQ2c: How do these policies relate to equitable access to advanced coursework?

Phase one will take place from the fall of 2020 through the fall of 2021.

Phase Two - Student Perspective and School Practices

Phase two will focus on understanding student perspectives and school practices and will include a student survey and multiple case study.


We will conduct a regional survey of middle and high school students to explore how they make decisions about enrolling in advanced courses or not, and what barriers and supports they perceive. To inform the development of this survey, we will convene an advisory council of middle and high school students from all MERC divisions to discuss potential survey items.

RQ3: How do secondary students in the MERC region make decisions about taking advanced courses and how are those decisions mediated by students' ability beliefs, subjective task values, and perceived barriers and supports?RQ3a: What are students' expectancies for success in advanced coursework?
RQ3b: How do students perceive the attainment, intrinsic, and utility value of advanced coursework?
RQ3c: What costs or barriers do students perceive when making decisions about taking advanced courses?
RQ3d: What supports do students perceive when making decisions about taking advanced courses? What additional supports do they perceive as potentially helpful?
RQ3e: How do socializers in a student's environment mediate their decision-making processes for enrolling in advanced coursework?
RQ3f: How are students' decision making processes for enrolling in advanced coursework mediated by their concerns about COVID-19?

Survey data collection will begin as early as the fall of 2021.

Case Study

We will select six schools from throughout the MERC region (two elementary, two middle, and two high schools) demonstrating promising practices in promoting equitable enrollment and success in advanced courses as evidenced by the secondary data analysis and survey responses. These schools will serve as sites for a multiple case study in which we will interview students, teachers, counselors, administrators, and parents to learn about school level practices promoting equitable enrollment in advanced coursework.

RQ4: What formal and informal practices do MERC division schools use to promote equity in advanced coursetaking?
RQ4a: What are the practices for enrolling students in advanced coursework? What role do counselors, teachers, and administrators play? What role do students and their families play?
RQ4b: How are school level practices informed by federal, state, and division level policies related to advanced coursework?
RQ4c: What role do socializers play in students' decisions to enroll in advanced courses?
RQ4d: How do traditionally underrepresented students experience advanced courses?
RQ4e: What are the school level practices that promote student enrollment, persistence, and achievement in advanced coursework?
RQ4f: How has COVID-19 informed school practices for promoting advanced course taking?

Case study data collection will begin in approximately the spring of 2022.

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Read reports from the different phases of this study.


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This literature review explores five questions about equity in Advanced Placement (AP) classes: 1) What are AP classes? 2) Who enrolls and succeeds in AP classes? 3) Why do disparities in AP matter? 4) What factors contribute to disparities in AP participation and performance? 5) What policies and practices help to address disparities in AP access, enrollment, and performance?


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This literature review explores five questions about gifted and talented (GT) programs: 1) What does it mean to be "gifted?" 2) Who receives gifted services? 3) Why does this mater? 4) What factors contribute to disparities in gifted services? and 5) What strategies help to address disparities in gifted education? 


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Abstract · Who Takes AP Classes?

Abstract · How can we promote equitable access and support for advanced coursework across K12 education?

Abstract · Do Latinx Students Have Equal Access to AP Classes? - 4:9:21, 9.08 AM




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Teddy Stripling, University of Chicago Lab School


Nubaha Islam

Sandra Saji


    Morgan Saxby, Teacher, Robious Elementary School
    Adrienne Blanton, Principal, L.C. Bird High School
    Carolyn Waters, ESL Teacher at Falling Creek Middle School

Beth Fowler, Advanced Programs and Equity Specialist

Renee Ferrell, Director of School Counseling, Goochland High School

Olivia Exum, AP Spanish Teacher, Goochland High School 

Andy Armstrong, Assistant Superintendent of Business Operations

Tyrontay Nichols, English Teacher, Patrick Henry High School

Emily Garcia, Counselor, Mechanicsville High School

Connie Foreman, School Board Office

Rich Ashburn, Gifted Resource Teacher, Adams Elementary, Harvie Elementary, and Laburnum Elementary

John Marshall, Principal, Douglas Freeman High School

Greg Lyndaker, History Teacher, Henrico High School

Gwen Price, Director of Research, Testing, and Evaluation

Decardra Jackson, STEM Coordinator

Tanja Atkins-Nelson, Principal, Flat Rock Elementary School

Xenia Cornick, Division School Social Worker

Candace Veney-Chapin, Manager of College and Career Pathways

Camilla Battle, Counselor, John Marshall High School

Laura Faulcon, Manager of Alternative Education

Carmen Ward, Director of Counseling, Armstrong High School



Virginia Commonwealth University
School of Education

MERC, Oliver Hall, 4th Floor
1015 W. Main St, Box 842020
Richmond, VA 23284-2020

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