The Role of the Principal in Building an Inclusive and Effective AP Program

In my last post, I responded to a comment from a reader whose principal had set forth the expectation that AP performance be improved. I offered suggestions that the teachers in their professional learning communities might consider. In this post, I will turn to the role of the principal himself. How might he contribute to improved AP participation and performance? (Obviously, principals may be female, but the writer indicated a male so I will stick to male pronouns.)

I had an interesting experience with one of my own principals this summer. He attended the AP Annual Conference (APAC) with me in July and returned to our campus a man with a mission. The equity and access strand of the conference was particularly enlightening to him and made him very concerned with the under-representation of low income and minority students in the AP program. Some of the statistics describing the gap are quite shocking. At the beginning of the school year, he made it a project to search through all of his freshmen and to identify any students who seemed to have potential for success in PreAP classes (based on state assessment results), but were not enrolled in those classes. He was both pleased and disappointed that he was only able to identify about a dozen of those students. We are obviously doing a good job of casting a net that captures most of the students who should be taking those classes. Nonetheless, he pressed on with his small list, contacting those students’ parents to request that they meet with him and consider adding a PreAP class to their child’s schedule. He mailed home literature describing the advantages of the AP program. At a special meeting held in conjunction with open house, he had current AP students talk to the parents about the program, as well as a parent whose child took AP classes and is now at a major university on an athletic scholarship. He wanted the parents to see students and other parents who look like them and share their same concerns in order to break the stereotype many associate with AP students. The teachers the children would have were also there to answer questions and assure parents that the classes are both challenging and supportive.
Every school should be so lucky to have a principal who wants to help build the AP program like this.

Many principals adopt a laissez-faire approach to AP classes and teachers, but there are many things they can do to help insure the program grows to reflect the diversity and strengths of their campus. What all can principals do?
• Familiarize themselves with the AP program by attending College Board conferences and encouraging others on their campus (counselors and teachers) to do so as well.
• Assign teachers to teach AP classes who have the content knowledge to teach the course as well as a willingness to support students who might struggle. AP teachers should have the time and energy to devote to extra tutorial sessions as well as to possible Saturday prep sessions.
• Schedule AP classes to avoid conflicts and maximize student participation.
• Provide funds to purchase necessary equipment and resources and to send teachers to training.
• Provide a vision for the AP program that includes participation that reflects the diversity of the school’s population and performance that reflects rigorous instruction to meet high standards.
• Promote the concept of vertical teaming so that more students are better prepared to be successful in AP classes.
• Celebrate successes visibly both within the school and the larger community.
• Learn to interpret AP Potential data as well as the Teacher Instructional Planning Report so that he can set goals and provide constructive feedback as to both participation and performance.
• Encourage successful AP teachers to become AP readers, College Board consultants or to otherwise contribute to the larger AP community.
• Encourage individual students who have a strong ability or interest in a particular subject to take the associated AP class.
• Look for opportunities to expand AP offerings and to provide AP teachers opportunities to promote their classes.

Principals have a challenging job and much of their time is devoted to dealing with the lower end of the academic spectrum. Building a strong AP program will improve their school’s reputation in the community and provide their graduates with a valuable advantage as they move on to post-secondary education. It is a task definitely worthy of their time and attention. Thanks for reading and keep making suggestions for future posts.

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2 Responses to “The Role of the Principal in Building an Inclusive and Effective AP Program”

  1. AP Mom Says:

    Is there any data that correlates total class time with AP scores? What motivates students to prepare for an do well on the AP exams? Why is the exam score so valued by administrators but not students? Our school is attempting to limit the number of AP classes a student can take by increasing class time to 7.5 periods a week which creates a crazy schedule that makes students drop an AP class to meet graduation requirments.

    • apleadteacher Says:

      I don’t know of any data specifically for AP scores. It just makes sense though that the more time spent on a subject, the better a student will know it. I think the score as a function of time in class would be logistic though where there is some point where additional time probably won’t make much of a difference. For some courses (like calculus), I think student performance is very correlated to their preparation from previous courses. It’s hard to do calculus if you don’t know algebra, geometry, trignometry, etc. Poorly prepared students need much more time to fill in those gaps. In our school, students are very motivated to do well on their exams. They want to earn the college credit, thus saving both time and money! Many also mention the personal satisfaction and confidence derived from doing something very challenging that allows them to meet a national standard. Our school and administration both actively support the students’ interest in AP. For some students, just one AP course is a good challenge but others easily juggle five or six AP classes, along with sports and other activities. I don’t think there should be a “one size fits all” policy. Let the kids and parents determine what they can handle.

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