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Chancellor Dennis Walcott moderated a panel about Advanced Placement courses at New York University today. To the immediate left, Park East senior Yailizabeth Castillo.

New York City school officials are bringing Advanced Placement courses to far more high schools in their latest effort to get black and Hispanic students doing college-level work.

Almost 58,000 students were enrolled in AP courses in 2012. Now, the city is spending $7 million on an Advanced Placement Expansion Initiative to bring 120 sections of AP classes to 55 high schools. Most of the new classes are in the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, where white and Asian students far outpace black and Hispanic students.

The new initiative is a collaboration with the College Board, which designs and administers the test, and whose president is David Coleman, architect of the the state’s new Common Core standards.

At a kickoff event this morning, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the expansion reflects the goals of the Common Core, which is aimed at getting students to think deeply and critically.

“This will be Common Core-plus,” Walcott told students from schools participating in the program. ”What Advanced Placement does is just take it to the next level.”

AP courses require more writing and big-picture thinking than traditional high school courses, which tend to focus on preparing students to pass tests required for graduation. Students who pass AP exams while in high school can earn college credits.

But the exams are optional, and nationally, fewer black and Hispanic who take AP classes sit for the exams at the end, according to Trevor Packer, a vice president at College Board. Locally, while students of all races have taken and passed more AP exams in recent years, black and Hispanic students have continued to pass far less often than white and Asian students.

The racial AP achievement gap is most pronounced in science and math courses, Packer said today.

That was apparent at Park East High School, one of the participating high schools that began offering AP courses last year, according to Suzy Ort, an assistant principal who coordinates the school’s AP program. She said 58 students enrolled in at least one of the three AP courses offered last year, and results from the lone science course — Environmental Science — were the lowest: Just two of 18 students earned a level three or higher on the exam.

City officials want the AP Expansion Initiative to focus on high schools that have not traditionally offered the more rigorous coursework. Of 55 participating schools, 40 percent never offered AP courses before the 2011-2012 school year and none offered AP courses in science or math, city officials said.

The AP initiative is also an effort to expand opportunities for students to receive college credits while still in high school. The city’s largest program which provides college credits for high school students, College Now, enrolls close to 20,000 students annually from more than 350 high schools. The other dual credit enrollment courses, such as the one modeled on the two-year-old Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Crown Heights, have gained national attention.

Some students said today that they were giving up enrollment in College Now classes to take part in their school’s AP expansion.

“You can email your professor for College Now but you won’t actually  be able to see him until that day of the week,” said Yailizabeth Castillo, a Park East senior explaining why she prefers the daily AP classes to the weekly college classes. Castillo took three College Now courses over the last two school years but is currently enrolled in three AP courses this year. “For AP courses, you have your AP teachers there with you every single day so if you’re not sure about something you could easily just contact them or come earlier in the day to speak to them,” she said.

Ort emphasized that while the test scores are important, the class experience, modeled after a college lecture course, should also factor into success. This year, the school is offering two more AP courses under the expansion initiative — calculus and U.S. history — and Ort said she expects AP enrollment to double.

No new teachers are being hired for the new courses, so the program will rely heavily on training existing teachers. The city is partnering with the National Math and Science Initiative to support the teachers.

“There is not an AP community among teachers here,” said Gregg Fleisher, NSMI’s chief academic officer. “Not yet, but this program is going to start to build that.”

Here is a list of all participating schools, which range from highly selective and specialized schools, such as Brooklyn Latin, to non-selective schools such Park East:

Academy for Young Writers
Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School
Astor Collegiate Academy
August Martin High School
Automotive High School
Bronx High School for Writing and Communication Arts
Bronx Lab School
Bronx Latin
Bronx School of Law and Finance
Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment
Brooklyn Collegiate: A College Board School
Brooklyn Lab School
Brooklyn School for Global Studies
Brooklyn School for Music & Theatre
Brooklyn Studio Secondary School
Brooklyn Theatre Arts High School
Business of Sports School
Central Park East High School
Channel View School for Research
Coalition School for Social Change
Cypress Hills Collegiate Preparatory School
East New York Family Academy
East-West School of International Studies
EBC High School for Public Service–Bushwick
Frederick Douglass Academy II Secondary School
Frederick Douglass Academy VI High School
George Washington Carver High School for the Sciences
Green School: An Academy for Environmental Careers
Health Opportunities High School
High School for Civil Rights
High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety
High School for Medical Professions
High School of Arts and Technology
Mathematics, Science Research and Technology Magnet High School
N.Y.C. Museum School
New Design High School
New Heights Academy Charter School
Pace High School
Park East High School
Performing Arts and Technology High School
Queens Vocational and Technical High School
Ralph R. McKee Career and Technical Education High School
Repertory Company High School for Theatre Arts
School for International Studies
School of the Future High School
Science, Technology and Research Early College High School at Erasmus Secondary School for Journalism The College Academy
The Marie Curie School for Medicine, Nursing, and Health Professions
The Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice
University Heights Secondary School
Urban Assembly New York Harbor School
W. H. Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School
William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School
Wings Academy World Academy for Total Community Health High School
Young Women’s Leadership School