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Wrong Track?
Youth Radio's Bianca Brooks examines the effects of academic tracking at her Oakland high school.

By Bianca Brooks

If you walked into my morning history class just a few weeks ago, you might have heard an excited teacher sharing news about the Arab Spring or the hum of groups discussing character development in our latest book. In a nutshell, you would've seen valuable, genuine learning.

But just on the other side of the school, where most Latino and fellow black students attend classes, you might have seen paper flying across the room and students waking up from their morning naps. Two very different classrooms -- the very same school.

According to a recent report by the College Board, African-Americans are the most underrepresented group in advanced placement classrooms.

At my school, tracking begins between freshman and sophomore years, when students are evaluated based on academic performance and completion of a major summer assignment. Some are hoping to be placed into the esteemed English program, others into the prestigious engineering academy, but many minority students are just glad to be promoted the next grade and don't understand the consequences of tracking.

The school doesn't tell students that if they take remedial English, their SAT scores won't be competitive on a national level. Nor does it tell them that they might just be bored and unchallenged. One day at school, I was complaining to a friend about how overwhelmed I felt by my AP classes. She said, "You're lucky. I've only been assigned a single essay this whole year" -- and we were already five months in. My friend told me she would've tried much harder to get into advanced English if she had known where she'd end up. 

Some of my classmates are fortunate to have parents who push them, and lobby on their behalf to ensure they make it into my school's more competitive path. But many students lack that advantage. And without transparency from teachers and counselors about how tracking works, students are left with an incomplete roadmap to their educational goals.

Part of me is empowered, knowing that among a small percentage of African-American students excelling in elite courses. The other side of me feels angry knowing that 80 percent of my black peers who had the potential to succeed in AP classes, didn't sign up.

With a Perspective, I'm Bianca Brooks. Bianca Brooks is 16 years old and lives in Oakland. Her commentary was produced by Youth Radio.

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