Increasing Access to Advanced Placement Done the Right Way!

I spent much of yesterday being incensed over a very misleading and one-sided article about the AP program that was posted on the internet.  Through selective use of data and anecdotal evidence, almost anything can be made to look good or bad.  A hammer can be a tool used to build someone a house or to bash in their skull.  It’s all about the person wielding that tool.  Likewise, the AP program can be used to better prepare students for college, particularly those who haven’t had access to higher education in the past OR it can be used to delude students into thinking they are college-ready when they are pushed into so-called AP classes that are not taught at a rigorous level.  The article on which I wasted valuable time yesterday chose to highlight teachers who seemed to be unsuccessful in their attempts to build inclusive AP programs.  Today, I plan to shine the spotlight on two teachers who I was privileged to meet when we presented together at the Equity and Access strand of the AP Annual Conference in Las Vegas in July.

The three of us were chosen to make presentations specifically because we have built inclusive programs and have more minority and/or low income students successful in our respective classes than any other AP teacher in our states.  Our success is measured in terms of student performance on the AP exam.  We all teach at comprehensive high schools that have no entrance criteria.  These are not magnet schools.  Our AP courses are open enrollment which means that we encourage every student who has taken the prerequisite classes to take our AP classes.  We don’t restrict enrollment based on grades, test scores or teacher recommendations.  Kids sign up for our classes knowing our high level of expectations, understanding the work load we will require and that we will provide the support necessary to make them successful—in the class, on the exam, and in the college classes they will take in the future.

All three of us mentioned the importance of teacher training prior to teaching an AP class.  It helps tremendously to get training from teachers who have built inclusive and successful programs themselves and who understand the twin pillars of challenge and support.  I will detail some specifics of my presentation in my next blog post.  I addressed the issue of “Overcoming Inertia” and discussed many of the strategies that I have written about in the past on this blog.  Next up was Katherine, an AP Calculus and Chemistry teacher from Oklahoma addressing the topic of “Maintaining Momentum.”

Katherine stressed the importance of vertical teaming, of purposefully strengthening the courses students take prior to the AP level so that students come into the classes better prepared over time.  She also discussed working with AP teachers in other subject areas to coordinate efforts so that students are not overloaded with major projects all due at the same time.  Her school obviously has an AP PROGRAM, rather than a collection of individual AP classes that exist in isolation to each other.  Katherine spent much of her presentation addressing ways to challenge the most capable students while simultaneously supporting those who are still adjusting to the rigors of college level work.  She provided specific examples of providing those students with extra opportunities to work with her and with their classmates on the content of the class and of providing students with a second chance when they failed to achieve mastery initially.  She discussed the importance of building relationships with and between her students, of creating a learning community and building camaraderie.  She talked about establishing a group identity through t-shirts and activities such as science competitions and doing science projects with elementary level students.  She supports students outside of her classroom by attending their events, offering PSAT preparation and writing letters of recommendation for colleges and scholarships.  When they see her doing those things outside of class, they are that much more dedicated to working hard within the class.  Her overriding philosophy is to “demand and reward rather than threaten and punish.”

This post is a little longer than I wanted so I have decided to introduce the second teacher later this week.  Keep reading to hear the positive side of building an inclusive AND successful AP program!



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