Why in the world am I doing this?

I am the least tech-savvy person on the planet and have never done anything like this before, but I am hoping it will work out and help some people. I have been an AP lead teacher for seven years and have had good success in my school/district. There are more and more folks stepping into AP lead teacher roles due to the efforts of things like the National Math and Science Initiative. I get plenty of emails asking me questions and, frankly, I often don’t have time to answer or don’t have all of the answers, so I thought this forum might help. Please feel free to disagree or to add your opinions/ideas by making comments. Also, please feel free to ask questions and I hope to respond with a new post every week.

Let me tell you a little about my school. Pflugerville High School has about 2300 kids in grades 9-12. About 40% officially qualify for free/reduced lunch, but that number is deceptive. We are a working class community and many families are one paycheck away from qualifying. Our population is about 1/4 African American, 1/3 Hispanic, 1/10 Asian, and then just a mixture. Before we began a five year grant (seven years ago) to increase participation and performance in AP classes we had barely 100 kids taking the exams each year. Now we have over 800 each year. I would say that our program has been quite successful. I teach AP Calculus, but I hope to keep the blog general enough that AP leads for any subject will benefit from it.

I really don’t know how long blog posts should be, but I want to give you something to think about. What do we mean by success in an Advanced Placement program? Does it just mean having a high percentage of testers getting a recommended score? I think not. I have seen too many schools where they just a dozen or so kids sit for an exam and because they are the very best kids in the school, they all score fives. Big deal! Those kids could have taught themselves. Does success mean just having a huge number of kids taking the exam? This bothers me too. Have seen schools give hundreds of exams and score nothing but ones and twos year after year. Ouch! Some of those schools end up ranked pretty high on Jay Mathew’s index. I really want to see the full range of scores and hope they would come close to matching the distribution of the national testing group. Finally, would a large number of testers with scores mirroring the national group’s make me happy. Unfortunately not. (I’m not too easy to please, am I?) I know of schools who have good participation and good scores, but those scores are all earned by white students and I know the school is majority minority. I really want the demographics of the AP program to match the demographics of the school. Otherwise, I really get worried about “gatekeeping” and “elitism” and other nasty things. So, in coming posts, I hope to write about ways to build an inclusive, high performing AP program that reflects the diversity of the school. I will talk about some of my own experiences, as well as what I have seen in other effective programs with which I have worked. Doing this blog thing will be a challenge to me, but I ask kids every day to take on the challenge of the AP program. I need to be willing to stretch myself as much as I expect them to stretch. Let me know that you’re out there. If no one is reading by next month, I will just find something better to do with my time (like grading tons of AP free response papers!)

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6 Responses to “Why in the world am I doing this?”

  1. Thomas Goldsbury Says:

    Thanks for doing this Dixie! When I scan the calculus EDG, there are a very few writers whose posts I make certain to read, Lin’s, Lou Talman’s, David Bressoud’s and YOURS! This blog reminds me of an education professor that I had at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. He was forever waging the losing battle of encouraging teacher candidates to go to inner-city schools. He said, many times, “the best students don’t need the best teachers… the best you can hope for is that you don’t get in their way”.

    In the 4 incentive schools in Houston this year we jumped from 22 “passing” the year before last to 59 passing this last year. The flip side is, however that this is less than 30% of the enrollment. How to increase the rate of success…. that is the question!

  2. Mary Harmon Says:

    I am not a lead teacher. However, anything that i can glean do improve the effectiveness of what I do is worth reading. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

  3. Suzy Says:

    I agree with so… much of what you have said. There has been an AP Calc program in our district for quite some time, but only the “smart” kids (those that they know will pass the exam) are encouraged to take the class and the class has also gotten the reputation as being a killer class.

    Two years ago we opened a new high school (the 2nd high school) in the district and last year was the first year for seniors, so the first year of AP Calc. I was hired for the job and had 23 students in my class. I have been teaching for 13 years – but it was my first teaching AP Calc and while I had high expectations, I chose to not make the class a killer. My scores were GREAT – 17 – 5’s, 3 – 4’s, 2 – 3’s and 1 – 2. Now – granted I worked my tail off last year – but this shows that only the elite students end up in this class. I often told the kids that I could have locked them in the room with a calculus book and they would have been able to score 3’s.

    So… now that I have my first year under my belt – I am trying to increase the number of students taking AP Calc. This year I have about 20 students. My principal also wants more students in AP classes and is interested in the student being better prepared for college – not just making a 5 on an AP test. So now – I am trying to develop ideas on how to get more students interested in taking AP calculus – especially a more diverse group – not just the “smart” kids. If you have any suggestions – they would be greatly appreciated!

    Good for you for stepping out of your box!! I LOVE the Calc listserve and appreciate your posting and this blog! Suzy in SC

  4. Michele Graves Says:

    I am out here! I also forwarded this blog to my math and science Lead AP people. Just helps to know that someone else is suffering through this with us. Thanks!

  5. Mary Hudson Says:

    Although I am an English Lead (this is my first year), your blog is quite informative. Please keep writing.

  6. Joanne Schmitt Says:

    Thank you for your blog. As a veteran AP Calculus teacher, I am always looking for means to improve my instruction. Since I also teach in a small, low-income school district, I like to hear about innovative methods. I really liked your entry on using the school report. I already have some changes in mind for this year!

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