Incentives for Improving AP Participation and Performance

This is my final post in a series of five that I have done summarizing the discussion that occurred at the AP Annual Conference in a session on Expanding Access to AP.  Previous posts that you might be interested in include 1) Increasing Awareness of Your AP Program  2)  Identification of AP Students  3)  Training AP Teachers  4)  Providing Students With Support.  This fifth post will deal with INCENTIVES that can be used to either get kids to take AP classes or to succeed on AP exams.  How can we entice students and teachers to work really hard at mastering challenging material?  In addition to the intrinsic award of accomplishing a difficult task, are there extrinsic awards that might be used to motivate and reward hardworking and successful students and their teachers?

In this post, I do not intend to analyze the effectiveness of various incentives or to thrash out the philosophical implications for rewarding folks for doing something that might be considered a part of their job.  I will merely list the incentives that participants in this group identified and leave it to the reader to determine if any are appropriate to their particular situation.

  • Most schools seem to offer quality points on the GPA for students taking the more challenging preAP or AP coursework.  Sometimes, those points are dependent on students’ taking the AP exam as well.


  • For some students, having the AP designation on their transcript is an incentive since they believe it offers them an advantage in applying to selective colleges, programs or scholarships. 


  • The most obvious incentive is the possibility of earning college credit through successful completion of the AP exam.  There are financial benefits to earning college credit through AP exams which might include the possibility of earning a degree faster or being able to pursue a double major without extending time in college.


  • I think students are inspired to take AP classes when they know the class will be fun and engaging.  Fun and hard work do not have to be mutually exclusive terms.  I really believe that students enjoy my class (despite my corny math jokes) and that word of mouth encourages the next class to sign up and try to beat the previous year’s results.


  •  Some universities target automatic admission programs or special scholarships to students who have earned recommended scores on a certain number of AP exams.  I just read about such a program that is just beginning at the University of Alabama. 


  • My own school hosts an AP Scholars Breakfast for students and their parents.  (See a previous post on my blog.)


  • Students earn patches for their letterman jackets by earning AP Scholar status. 


  • Another school hosts an AP dinner for teachers to kick off the school year, to celebrate the previous year’s AP success and to set goals and to reiterate philosophy of inclusion and challenge.


  • Participation in AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) was listed as a possible incentive for AP students (though I see this more as a form of student support.  If you are unfamiliar with AVID, google them and find out more.


  • Teacher recognition for their outstanding scores or growth in their program can take many forms from a simple acknowledgement at a faculty meeting to a spread in the local paper to giftcards to local restaurants. 


  • There are districts where students and/or faculty receive cash awards for certain performance levels on AP exams.  My own district had such a grant for five years, awarding both students and teachers $100 for every recommended score (3, 4, or 5) earned on an AP exam.  Sources of cash might be local businesses, district education foundations or even state funds.   


  • Local businesses or district education foundations can also be tapped to  provide funding for necessary equipment or teacher training.  They might also provide snacks or door prizes for students who choose to attend Saturday prep sessions.


  • Some states have passed legislation to support AP expansion from the state level.  You might research what other states are doing and then support similar legislation in your own state.  Texas includes AP participation and performance on the “report card” for public high schools,  They also provide funding to reduce the cost of the exam and to provide teacher training.  State legislation in Arkansas mandates at least one AP course in each of the four core academic areas in every high school in their state. 


Lots of interesting things are going on all over the place and some of them will work well for you and your students.  I hope these last few posts might have given you ideas and encouraged you to check out the Expanding Access to AP toolkit produced by the Broad Foundation.  Writing these five posts as school was getting underway was a good challenge for me.  I hope to continue finding topics that might help others in building their AP programs.  Please send me suggestions!  I look forward to hearing from some of you. 


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