New Year’s AP Resolutions

Well, it’s New Year’s Eve and many folks are making resolutions to improve their health or finances in the coming year. This might be a good time to consider how you hope to improve your AP program in 2011. Think about setting some goals and determining some strategies to help you achieve those goals. They say that you are more likely to keep a resolution if you tell someone else about it and ask them to hold you accountable so I would suggest discussing your goal with your fellow AP teachers and possibly with school administrators who can provide resources and support to make your goal a reality.

I recently had an interesting conversation with an AP teacher who had been directed by her principal to “improve performance in her AP class.” On last May’s AP exam, her students had achieved dismal results (partly due to a testing irregularity I think) with only 4 of 34 receiving a recommended score. In order to achieve her principal’s goal, the easiest thing to do would be to test fewer students. “If I only tested five kids and had 4 recommended scores, I would have an 80% pass rate as opposed to about 12%.” Would this approach actually show improved performance? I think not, but it illustrates the danger of focusing on “passing” percentage.

I think there are a number of different measures that AP teachers might choose to improve. Consider these as possible starting points and choose one or two that might apply to your situation. Send me other suggestions that you think of and I will include in a future post.
• Scores Many AP teachers want to simply increasing the NUMBER of students achieving a recommended score on the AP exam. As we move into the spring semester, they will want to make use of all of the released AP items (both multiple choice and free response) that are available. They might offer additional study time before or after school or even on Saturdays.

• Number of AP Students Perhaps a high percentage of the students in your AP class are already getting recommended scores. It might be time to expand the number of students taking the class. Many schools will hold registration for next year’s classes soon. What plans have you made to promote your AP class? We have a new AP Statistics teacher who is doing a bang up job in this area. She made a very cool brochure about her class. I distributed it to all students taking PreCalculus this year and she personally visited all of the Algebra 2 classes. We plan to set up a booth at the electives fair attended by students and parents.

• Preparation of AP Students Perhaps you have plenty of kids registering for your classes, but they are coming in poorly prepared and you have to spend so much time shoring up prerequisite skills that you cannot get to your AP curriculum. Now would be the time to meet with the Pre-AP teachers who courses feed into yours and give them two or three specific skills or concepts that you hope they can focus on during the spring semester. Perhaps you need to plan some sort of summer intervention program to give students a jumpstart for next year.

• Demographics of Your AP Program Do the demographics of your AP class match the overall demographics of your school in terms of ethnicity and socio-economic status? If not, then perhaps this is an area in which you could work. You might convene of focus group of under-represented students and determine what factors are preventing their participation and see what can be rectified. A previous blog post about our AP Ambassadors Program might give you some ideas.

• Exam Participation Maybe you have a good number of kids taking your class and the demographics match those of your school. The problem might be that some students in the class choose not to take the AP exam. Start the second semester by determining the barriers to participation. Is it financial? Make sure the kids understand the fee waiver system and that your AP coordinator promotes use of the waivers. Point out to kids (and their parents!) the potential savings if they earn college credit. Heck, the cost of one calculus textbook is almost double the cost of the AP exam! Last year, some students had misinformation regarding their college’s acceptance of AP scores. We quickly corrected the problem with the tool at AP central that connects students to AP policies at most colleges and universities.

• Drop Rate Perhaps you started the year off with a good number of students, but many dropped at the semester. Take the time to interview those who dropped and find out why and take steps now to reduce this problem next year. One of the keys to reducing the drop rate is to make sure the right kids get registered for the class and that they come in prepared to do the work. (See previous goals above.) Also, having kids take the AP exam and earn good scores leads to greater buy-in from future classes of students. (Again, see previous goals.)

• Grades vs. AP Scores You might have realized that students in your classes have been earning high grades, but that their AP scores are abysmal. You might need to focus on increasing the rigor of your class and assessing students so that they get honest feedback regarding their mastery of the material. I would hope that there is some correlation between grades and test scores and, if not, that a teacher would see this as an area in need of improvement. If this is an issue for you, ask to examine assessments from successful AP teachers that you know and see if you are asking enough of your students. They will rise to meet your expectations so expect A LOT! Be willing to give them second chances though if they don’t initially show mastery of the material. Don’t give up if they don’t succeed the first time. Keep badgering them until they get it.

Okay, it’s time for me to have some New Year’s Eve fun. I hope I have given you some ideas of possible resolutions you can make to improve your AP program in the coming year. 2011 is going to be a great year! Best wishes to you and to your students!

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