Dealing With Dropping

There are plenty of AP teachers who begin the school year with full classes, but have plenty of empty desks once Christmas arrives.  How can we deal with the problem of students who sign up for AP classes, but give up too quickly and request schedule changes the first time they run into difficulty?

Preventing “droppage” begins in the spring when students are initially registering for next year’s classes.  They need to understand that the choices they make are important and cannot be changed lightly.  Based on their course requests, the master schedule will be built and teachers will be hired.  I make a point to visit each preCalculus class and explain to students the differences between the two AP Calculus classes we offer as well as informing them about our other math AP offerings (AP Statistics and AP Computer Science).  I often have my student ambassadors (see previous posting) accompany me on these visits so that they can discuss issues about the homework load and the relative difficulty of my course as compared to others they have taken.  Last year, there was a surge in registrations for AP Calculus BC, the more challenging of our two calculus offerings.  I was worried that some students were taking on more than they would be able to handle.  I had the preCalculus teacher pass out letters to every one of those students that they had to have their parents sign.  The letter basically said that they understood the time committment necessary for success in my class and were willing to tackle the challenging work.  My purpose was not to discourage students from taking the class, but instead to make sure they knew what they were signing on for.  The letter asked them to consider the difficulty of their entire course load, their extracurricular committments and their work schedule.  A few students opted to take the less demanding Calculus AB course instead.  If a student were to now claim that they didn’t know how demanding the class would be, I have signed evidence that they were fully informed.

The second step in reducing schedule changes is to examine policies and practices and see if they are designed to keep students in challenging classes.  Our school previously had a policy that students had to drop AP classes within the first three weeks of school.  We have now turned that policy inside out and they have to remain there for three weeks.  That gives them a good chance to really see what the class will be like rather than fleeing after their first difficulty.  Teachers know that they need to win the kids over  and will try to include some of their more interesting reading, labs or activities during that time.  The purpose is not to trick the kids into staying, but rather to give them a true sense of both the difficulty and the value of the class.  If it is obvious that a teacher is trying to “run students off” so as to make their teaching load lighter, then the teacher will probably be having an uncomfortable conversation with their supervising principal.  Our philosophy is to get kids into AP classes  and to then keep them in, culminating in completion of the AP exam in May. All teachers, students, administrators and counselors should know and understand that philosophy.

One of our best lines of defense in keeping kids from dropping our AP classes is in our counseling department.  All schedule changes must be approved by a principal and be made by a counselor.  Before changing the schedule though, counselors will ascertain if the student has exhausted all opportunities to be successful in the class.  Questions they might ask a student who is struggling and thinking about dropping a class:

  • How many times have you been in to see the teacher regarding your difficulty?
  • Have you completed all of the assignments you were given?
  • Did you find a peer tutor with whom to work?
  • Did you try reading the textbook to reinforce the material being taught?
  • If you drop this class now, how will you tackle a similar course in college next year (that might move at a much faster pace)?

If the student has really tried and is not able to be successful, then a schedule change might be appropriate.  Any significant changes to a student’s schedule though will be reported to all colleges to which the student has applied.  This policy is to prevent kids from loading up on AP classes during fall of senior year and then dropping most of them once they have a college acceptance letter in hand.  Students need to understand that schedule changes are not taken lightly.

Finally, if you have large numbers of students dropping an AP class, having them fill out an exit interview might help to determine where the problem lies.  Is the teacher giving an inordinate amount of homework?  Did the students not understand what they were signing on for?  What makes them think they cannot handle the work?  There might be issues of which the teacher is completely unaware but that could be easily addressed with a few minor changes.

A strong AP program gets kids into the classes, keeps them in those classes and helps them to be successful there.  In my next post, I hope to address the topic of creating master learners in the AP classroom.  If you have topics you would like for me to address, please leave a comment.  Thanks for reading!

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One Response to “Dealing With Dropping”

  1. Lin McMullin Says:

    Students often want to drop because they have a failing grade. Another approach is to make the student do all the things in Dixie’s list: see the teacher x-times for help, make up all missing work, work with another student etc. Another requirement is to require the student to raise his or her grade to PASSING grade before being allowed to drop. At which point there is really no reason to drop.

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