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A Phenomenological Analysis of the Advanced Placement Experiences of American Indian/Alaskan Native Students Open Access

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Some educational reform efforts include College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) programs as a means of increasing equity and access to rigorous, college-like curriculums for all students. In 2013, the nineteen states with the highest American Indian/Alaskan Native (AI/AN) populations had not closed the participation or performance gaps for AI/AN students on AP exams (College Board, 2014), indicating inequality in receiving the benefits offered from AP programs. The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of AI/AN AP students in public mainstream U.S. high schools and sought to answer the overarching research question: How and what do AI/AN students experience in AP? Specifically, the following subquestions were addressed: How and what do AI/AN students describe as their AP course experiences? How do AI/AN students understand AP as opportunity? How and what do AI/AN students describe as their experience of AP exams? Involuntary minority status and structural inequality theory provided the frameworks to ground the study. van Kaam’s (1966) phenomenological design presented by Moustakas (1994) was implemented to answer the overarching research question. Four AI/AN participants who had taken at least one AP course in a mainstream public U.S. high school engaged in a one-on-one in-depth interview with the researcher. Data were organized and analyzed by grouping and reducing, thematizing, constructing individual and composite textural and structural descriptions, and finally composing a composite textural-structural description representing the group as a whole. Findings indicate two essences of the phenomenon: position of self and awareness of a hidden curriculum. The researcher concluded that AI/AN students experience an incongruence between being AI/AN and being an AP student; AI/AN students interpret AP as offering unequal opportunities for personal and collective benefits; and AP curriculums and exams represent barriers that affect how AI/AN students make meaning of their education. The study provides awareness about AI/AN experiences in AP and offers recommendations for policy, practice, and future research.

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