“Directing the Rider” to Improve Your AP Program

In their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, authors Dan Heath and Chip Heath offer advice on managing three distinct issues in making any significant change effectively. From my last post, you should know that the change I am advocating is for schools to build STRONGER and more inclusive AP programs. I emphasized stronger because I want to be clear that I am not advocating lowering standards or just putting poorly prepared students into AP classes. I want to maintain high standards while also putting supports into place that will allow more students to SUCCESSFULLY complete (that means taking and doing well on the AP exam as well) those AP classes. After my last post, I received a comment that made me realize that I was not clear on the type of change I would like to see. I will address this issue further in a future post.

For tonight, I want to share some of the advice that the authors offer for “directing the rider.” In my previous post, I explained that the rider represents the rational side of our brain that understands that a change is desirable. Unfortunately, wanting to make a change and knowing how to make the change are two entirely different issues. The authors offer three specific strategies that will help to direct the rider.
• FOLLOW THE BRIGHT SPOTS. It’s very likely that someone somewhere has made the sort of changes that your school is considering. Learn from their experiences—what worked and what might need to be tweaked to work in your particular situation. That’s the purpose of this blog; I wanted to share what has worked in my school with others who are considering building a more inclusive AP program without sacrificing quality. The College Board is working hard to identify bright spots. Check out the new publication called “Spotlight on Success: Strategies for Equity and Access,” available at AP Central. http://professionals.collegeboard.com/k-12/assessment/ap/equity There might even be a bright spot in your own building. If there is a teacher who is showing success with their AP classes, try to determine what they are doing differently and encourage other teachers to follow that example.
• SCRIPT THE CRITICAL MOVES. Work with your AP teachers to develop a list of five or six critical moves that you believe will lead to improved participation, performance and diversity in your AP program. It might be asking teachers to identify one or two areas of improvement based on their AP Instructional Planning Report, requiring AP teachers to attend College Board training, having the AP teacher visit with the teachers and students in the prerequisite course to explain the skills that will best prepare students for success in the AP class, asking AP teachers to administer at least two full-length AP practice tests, requiring a certain amount of out-of-class tutoring prior to the AP exam, asking that counselors use AP Potential results to help students plan their schedules for the next year. These are just suggestions. The actual critical moves that you and your team agree upon will depend on your particular needs and situation. The most important thing is that the critical moves be very simple and specific so that everyone feels as though they are do-able.
• POINT TO THE DESTINATION. When I interviewed for my current job, the principal told me he hoped to see 50% of the seniors graduating with AP experience. Given the state of their AP program at the time, I thought the man was crazy. Now, however, I think that goal is reasonable and well within reach. I’m thankful he set the bar high and that we continue to move toward that goal. Another one of our “destinations” is for the demographics of our AP program to match the overall demographics of our school. We are not there yet, but that is definitely the direction in which we are moving. What will success look like on your campus? Will it be offering at least one AP class in each of the four core areas? Having a certain percentage of the seniors graduate with a recommended score on at least one AP exam? Improving participation rates among a particular subset of your student body? Determine where you are going and you are much more likely to get there.

In my next post, I will explain how to “motivate the elephant.” Hint: It will take more than peanuts to move the elephant along the path. Thanks for reading!


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