Under-Representation in the Advanced Placement Classroom

August 13, 2012

I have been thinking quite a bit lately about the issue of under-representation of certain sub-groups in Advanced Placement courses. In giving a presentation in my own district last year, I used a particularly dramatic example that I will now share with you. The United States’ population is about 12.9% African American and only about 4.4% Asian. Last year, there were 9572 Asian students who earned a 5 (highest possible score) on the AP Calculus BC exam. I asked my audience, “So how many African-American students scored at that level?” Now, I believe to the bottom of my soul that mathematics ability is distributed equally amongst all groups. I am also realistic enough to realize that it hasn’t always been developed equally so we know the number is going to be much lower than the expected value of 27,765. My audience threw out some guesses: “10,000?” offered the most hopeful. “4000?” “Maybe 2000?” guessed the more pessimistic.

Wait for it. The actual number is 390. My audience sat in stunned silence. When I think of the vast reservoir of undeveloped talent, it turns my stomach and makes my heart ache. Students who don’t have access to advanced levels of coursework face the prospect of lower freshman college GPA, less persistence in pursuing their college degrees, or a much longer and more expensive route to their degree. The social, political and economic implications of this under-development are enormous. If you are not moved by the tragedy of unfulfilled potential for some of these individual students, then you must surely be bothered by the cost to our society.

So, as I am feeling tremendously bummed out by this situation, I begin watching the Olympic coverage from London and am buoyed by what I am hearing from there. 29 of the 46 gold medals that the United States won were by female athletes. For the first time in Olympic history, our delegation included more female athletes than male and every single one of the 204 countries that were competing had at least one female there representing their country. You have to remember that when I was in high school (not that long ago!!), girls were still playing half-court basketball because they were thought to be too delicate to play the full-court version. College scholarships for female athletes were virtually non-existent and those who chose to play sports were often derided by their peers. Every girl was counseled to “let the boys win” so as not to appear “unfeminine.” What a load of hooey.

And then things changed. So, what happened? First, a small, but brave group of girls stepped forward and demanded an opportunity to play. Title IX legislation was passed and implemented. Parents supported their daughters’ goals and threatened to go to court if necessary to give them what they deserved. Schools and colleges had to pay attention to the make-up of their athletic population. Cheerleading, which has previously been about cheering for the boys’ teams, became an athletic competition in its own right and also began recruiting males. Everyone should have a chance to develop their talents and their passions—whether those are athletic or academic.

And that brings us back to our AP classes. How closely do the demographics of your AP program (in terms of gender, ethnicity and SES status) match the demographics of your school? If there is under-representation of some groups, what can you do about it this year to begin making the situation better? Let me be absolutely clear that I am not advocating a lowering of standards. (I always get a bunch of comments with that accusation whenever I blog about this issue.) I want us to develop policies and strategies that will help more students to meet our standards so they can enjoy the many benefits that AP classes offer. In my next blog post, I want to share a few ideas that I have, but would love to hear more suggestions from my reading audience. With our collective energy and experience, we can change this situation and give more students their deserved “gold medal opportunity” in our classes.


Using A Course Evaluation to Improve AP Instruction

May 21, 2012

As the year draws to a close, many of us are eager to head off for summer vacation and leave this year behind.  I think it’s important, however, to take some time to reflect on the year past and determine ways to improve your AP course in the future.  Being reflective about your practice is definitely the mark of a teacher who strives for improvement, one of the many qualities we see to instill in our students.  Asking students to fill out an end of year survey is one of the tools teachers can use to provide fodder for that reflection.  The survey below and the following rationale were provided by Paul Forester, AP teacher extraordinaire, recently retired from Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio, Texas.


Please answer the following questions. This will give you a chance to
consolidate your thoughts on what it is that you have learned this year.
It will also provide information for improving the course next year. It is
preferable that you do not sign this sheet.

1) What is the one most important thing you have learned as a result of
taking this course?

2) What was the most interesting part of the course?

3) What was the most difficult part to understand?

4) What (excluding the instructor!) should be changed the next time the
course is taught?


Here are some annotations explaining the wording of the questions and some
responses I typically get.

Length: The questionnaire is deliberately short, so that students can
complete it in five minutes or less, usually at the end of the last day of

Intro. paragraph: Explains the purpose of the questionnaire. The reason
for not signing the sheet is that students will be more candid with any
negative comments they may have if their anonymity is preserved.

Paragraph (1): I deliberately limit them to one thing only (although some
out-of-the-box thinkers go ahead and write more than one). Because a
number of students complete the questionnaire, I get a number of different
“important things” in response without having the students get bogged down
in multiple answers. The words “as a result of taking this course” are
deliberately chosen to give students the latitude of giving non-content
information, such as “I learned the importance of keeping up with
homework,” or “I learned to keep my pencil moving on tests,” or “I learned
never to give up.”

Paragraph (2): Sequenced as #2 to have something good for them to respond
to early in the questionnaire. The responses give me some insight on what
not to change next year.

Paragraph (3): The words, “… to understand” are deliberately used to
steer students to a mathematical topic. In BC Calculus the response is
usually “series,” although students often follow up by saying things like,
“… but I finally caught on.”

Paragraph (4): This question comes last so that students will have had
time to think about other things first. Responses are sometimes trivial
like, “easier tests,” and sometimes conflicting, like “more explorations,”
“fewer explorations.” But often they point out things I really need to
address the following year. The clause, “excluding the instructor” usually
draws a laugh!


I love the simplicity of Paul’s approach and appreciate greatly his sharing of this tool.  I think it’s a good idea to have a student collect the surveys, put them in a sealed envelope to be opened well after school has ended and grades are turned in.  Don’t be defensive as you read the responses, but consider ways that you can address issues that are raised or make more transparent to the students the reasoning behind some of your decisions.


If you have any good tools that you use to improve your AP class, please share them by posting a comment.  Until next time, I hope you have a very smooth end to your school year!

More Fun Ways to Review for the AP Exam

April 27, 2012

Just had dinner with a very good friend and outstanding AP teacher from Houston.  During dinner we discussed some fun things we do/have done in the past to help kids prepare for the exam.  Here are a few ideas. 

T.E.A.M. (Together Everyone Achieves More) Activity:  Regular readers of this blog know that I do everything I can think of to get my kids to work together and talk to one another about the material.  I truly believe (and research backs me up) that you solidify your understanding of things when you have to explain to someone else.  This week, my students took a mock exam and have gotten back their multiple choice and free response.  About 2/3 of them could take the AP exam tomorrow and do great, but about 1/3 still have significant work to do.  I went over the 6 most commonly missed multiple choice questions in each class and did one of the free response questions (a different one in each class).  We didn’t have much class time this week due to state-mandated testing.  They have to correct every other problem they missed by working with classmates.  For the next week, they will keep a record sheet where they will record what and with whom they are studying.  As they work together, they will add to that record sheet:

_______________(fill in name) taught me how to ________________ (fill in skill or topic learned) and get that person’s signature. 

I taught ________________(fill in name) all about ________________(fill in skill or topic) and again get that person’s signature. 

When they hand in their record sheet, they need to have signatures of at LEAST five different people.  They must have helped at least two different people and be helped by two different people.  I am encouraging them to use this as an opportunity to expand their social circle and work with and talk to kids they might not know too well.  I have kids who have vowed to bring me 20 signatures next week.

70’s Day:  I had forgotten about this until my dinner companion reminded me and told me about his additions to the idea.  Basically, the kids are in groups and have to choose a group name and symbol reflecting the 70’s (Disco Queens, Bicentenniel Bozos, whatever).  A team can get extra points if someone comes dressed appropriate to the era, brings music or food that was popular at that time.  We alternate working AP free response questions from the 70’s and doing 70’s trivia.  My friend has also done an 80’s Day with a similar approach.  You know you’re old when your own high school days become the kids’ nostalgia.

Chalk Talk:  I got this idea from our fabulous AP Economics teacher.  On the Saturday before her exam, she meets the kids up at the school and divides them into groups, giving each group a bucket of sidewalk chalk.  Each group works out a different free response question on the school parking lot and then they go around to learn what each of the other groups has written.


Our AP classes should be challenging AND fun!  If you have a creative idea you use to review for the AP exam, send me a comment and I will post it!

AP Free Response Practice: Some Ideas for Best Practices

April 17, 2012

As an AP lead teacher, I often get to observe AP teachers as they are preparing students for the AP exam and there are two practices I see that are commonplace, but ineffective.  In some classrooms, I see the teacher at the board working through multiple released free response questions while the students sit passively watching and agreeing with whatever the teacher says.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, I see teachers who hand out full sets of released exam questions and expect that the students can tackle these questions for ninety minutes with very little guidance.  Students will do what they can, but are soon frustrated and begin doodling and otherwise wasting valuable learning time.

So, how to best approach AP free response practice?  Here are a few ideas:

First, I hope that students have been tackling AP free response questions throughout the year as they learn the various topics.  For AP Calculus, there is an index to free response questions that allows the teacher to sort questions by topic and find those relevant to what they are teaching.

As the AP test draws nearer though (only three weeks away!), here are a few other things I have done.

Rows and Columns:  My students sit in rows and columns and I pass out a set of six free response questions.  Row 1 will do questions 1, row 2 begins with question 2, etc.  They have 20 minutes to work on their question.  If they get done or frustrated they will go on to the next question.  They need to do everything they possibly can on their question though before moving on.  When timer rings, the kids get together by row to compare how they they approached the problem.  They need to come to a consensus as to how best to work the problem and make sure everyone in the group understands.  If they are stuck, they can send one person to ask me a question.  Once they think they have a complete and correct answer, they send one person to me and I check it.  While waiting for the other groups to finish, they can then go on to another question.  Once all six groups have checked in with me, the kids will re-group, this time by columns so that each group has a person from Question 1 group, a person from Question 2 group, etc.  Each person has to help the rest of the group work their way through the question that they are responsible for.  This normally takes two periods to get them through all of the questions.

Best Two of Three:  Students get three free response questions (45 minutes worth of work) and have 30 minutes to choose and work as fully as possible whichever two seem most amenable to them.  When time is up, I will gather the papers and score them while the kids work on another activity (maybe multiple choice practice?)  There are normally some very good papers I can then show the class as exemplars, giving plenty of kudos to particularly detailed or interesting approaches.  I will also note which question is NOT chosen most often so that I can provide more review, guidance or practice on that topic.

Be a Leader/Become a Leader:  After the students have been working on free response and are getting better at preparing their responses, they will get a full set of questions (six for calculus) to be done in ninety minutes.  After I have scored these, I will identify students who have earned the full nine points for each question and set up six groups in my class with a little flag for each group  indicating which question will be covered there.  Students choose problems on which they did poorly and go to that group and allow the nine-pointer to walk them through the problem.  When time is up, the person who was the group leader appoints a new group leader from those who have just heard the explanation.  That person stays behind to explain the problem to the next group who arrives.  They will then appoint someone to be the next explainer, etc.  Everyone is supposed to take a turn being an explainer.  This gets them to listen more carefully while the problem is being explained to them and they are more likely to remember something they have just had to explain to others.   Students end up serving one round as an explainer and then get to have problems explained to them for three rounds.  This activity gets the kids moving around the room and conversing about the material.

All of these ideas are intended to shift the task of explaining material away from the teacher and on to the students.  By this time of the year, I need to be ready to step aside and get the students, their explanations and their understanding to take the central role in the classroom.  We are doing plenty of free response practice, but it’s not me doing all of the work nor do the kids have many opportunities to slack off or become frustrated.

Good luck to you and your students as you spend these last few weeks preparing them for the AP Exam!




Multiple Choice Practice for the AP Exam

April 1, 2012

By now, many AP teachers have covered the bulk of their curriculum and are beginning to have students take practice tests or mock AP exams. In this blog post, I will discuss multiple choice (MC) practice. In my next post, I will discuss strategies for free response practice. I try to give my AP Calculus students three practice MC exams, spaced about ten days apart from each other. Of course, we have been doing MC practice here and there throughout the school year, but this will be an entire MC test, under timed conditions. For the first one, I make it as low pressure as possible, assuring them that we are mainly trying to understand the structure of the test, the timing and the breadth and depth of the material being assessed. At this point, I remind them that we haven’t covered all of the material yet so I am not concerned as much with their scores. A 1 is not that big of a deal. Of course, many will score much higher than that, but I want even my weakest students to feel fine about however they do.
Once I return their papers to them, they have about seven to ten days to correct every problem that they didn’t get right. They need to analyze their error: did they not know a particular formula or theorem? Did they make an arithmetic or sign error? As they complete their corrections, they need to identify one or two topics they will study intensely to prepare for the second practice test. They will let me know how they will tweak their testing strategy: work more slowly to avoid careless errors or work faster to get to more problems?
For the second practice test, I set a goal that everyone will move up one grade level from their initial starting score. That means that my weakest students will now shoot to earn at least a 2. This is what self-improvement books call a SMART goal. It is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. Since there is usually a small gap between where a student is and where they need to go, they are motivated to study to hit that first target. After their papers are returned to them, they repeat the corrections process, knowing that in seven to ten days, we will be doing our final mock exam. I challenge everyone to again move up one level in their score, so that now the target is a 3. They understand they will need to again learn from that practice test and plan to achieve at least a score of 4 on the real exam. Not all of my students will meet that goal, but that’s okay. If they fall short, they will still have learned a lot of material and be much better equipped to succeed in college.

As you are preparing students to succeed on the AP exam, you might want to read a previous post (April 6, 2010) I wrote about having students write a study plan. I have spent most of today reading my students’ study plans and am confident that we will enjoy another successful year on the AP exam.

Time to Register for AP Exams!!

February 19, 2012

Our school will register students for AP exams during the week of February 27-March 2. Efforts to encourage students to register though actually got started some time ago. Perhaps some of our strategies will be helpful to you as well.
• From the beginning of the year, our teachers set a strong expectation that every student taking an AP class will take the exam in May. We cannot compel them to take the exam since they have to pay for it, but we can certainly make it clear that is our expectation.
• The exam cost has increased this year. We had thought students might have to pay $87 this year compared to $57 last year, but our administration has agreed to subsidize the cost so that students will only have to pay $67 (unless they qualify for free/reduced lunch.) We have been telling the students to expect a price increase since January and emailing parents to make sure they were aware of the increase.
• We are heavily promoting participation in free/reduced lunch program as a way to reduce the cost of the exam. Many of our students bring lunch from home, but the AP fee waivers are just one of the benefits of the free/reduced lunch program that benefit our college bound low income students.
• Speaking of promotion, we have posters up in all AP classrooms and around the school advertising both the value and the cost of the AP exam. One poster has a simple bar graph showing the cost of an AP exam versus the cost of the average college course in Texas. We also have posters of some of our graduates holding up signs showing how much college credit they earned last year based on their AP scores.
• We have had segments on our P-TV video announcements and articles in the school newspaper about the AP exam cost and the benefits of exam participation to students.
• Our counseling department (who actually register the students for the exams) is very flexible about working with students who have difficulty paying by the deadline. They will take a postdated check and wait until the next payday before depositing it.
• The counseling department will be sending out an updated spreadsheet showing who has registered every day of registration week so that teachers can check it and encourage students who have not registered to do so.
• Next week my AP Ambassadors will wear their t-shirts and get up in their classes to encourage their classmates to take the exams. They will do so again during the actual registration week.
• We will post a giant paper “thermometer” in the student center to track the number of exams registered for each day. Our goal is to break the 1000 mark by the end of the week. We will also deliver daily updates in the morning announcements.
• Our English teachers (more students take AP English exams than any other subject) are giving their mock exam on February 25 and will use the results to show students how close they are to a recommended score and what areas they need to focus on in order to get there. Mock exams for every other subject will follow in the coming weeks.
• Many of the AP teachers have already started conducting after school extra credit AP review sessions. I have been meeting with students either Tuesday afternoons or Wednesday mornings and have had about 50 students turn out each week. The students know they will be well-prepared by the time the exams roll around.
• Students at one of our other district high schools are holding their own fundraisers to supplement the district contribution to exam cost.
With the increased cost of the exam, we worry that participation will decline, but we are doing everything we can to help students see that the exam cost pales in comparison to paying for a college class. Just the cost of some textbooks is way more than the cost of the AP exam! In March, I will let you know if our efforts paid off. If you have other ideas, please leave a comment.

My To-Do List for Improving Our AP Program

January 3, 2012

Happy New Year Everyone! As we head into a new year and a new semester, I have a long list of things to do in the coming week in order to continue expanding and improving our AP program. Perhaps my to-do list will give you some ideas of things that you might think about to improve your program as well.

1. Plan for AP Ambassador meeting after school tomorrow. I sent an email out to the kids and hope they will show up to pick up their new and very classy t-shirts. We need to make plans for Friday’s AP Scholar reception and to start figuring out how we will encourage students to register for AP exams this year when the cost has gone up (our state budget cut the subsidy they have provided for AP exam fees.) In your school, how do you get students involved in promoting the AP program?
2. Finish details for the AP Scholar reception on Friday. We have food ordered, invitations sent out, patches and program are ready. It will be great to see some of our alumni and hear about their first semester in college. These kids will do a great job of encouraging current students to take full advantage of our school’s AP offerings. How do you make use of your alumni and celebrate the success of your AP program?
3. Organize requests for campus award money. Texas has provided funds for improvement of AP programs and teachers at our school and two feeder middle schools have submitted grant proposals that have to be presented to a committee for funding decisions. Have you talked to your school/district leadership about setting aside funds for improving your AP program? This is the time to request funds that will be needed this summer and next year.
4. Register teachers for upcoming training opportunities. We will be sending teachers to College Board and LTF training both during the spring semester and this summer. Have you investigated training opportunities in your area and identified teachers who might need/want to attend?
5. Use PSAT scores to identify students capable of being successful in AP classes but who are not registering. Also, identify sophomores with National Merit potential and invite them (and their parents) to breakfast informational meeting. PSAT scores have recently arrived on our campus. While students make use of the College My Road features, we will make use of AP Potential and SOAS. How do you make use of PSAT scores and the many free tools available from College Board that come along with those reports?

Well, that’s my list for this week. I hope to do shorter, more frequent posts during the coming year. Would appreciate hearing from some of my readers out there. Let me know if there are any topics you would like me to address in an upcoming post.

Mid-Year Assessment of Your AP Program

December 12, 2011

As the fall semester draws to a close, this is a good time to take a step back and do an assessment in order to better build your AP program through the spring semester. Here are a few things to consider:

• Are AP teachers using actual AP exam questions as much as possible to best prepare students for the May exams? Many teachers have already started “Multiple Choice Mondays” and “Free Response Fridays” to give kids experience with the format and rigor of the AP exam.
• Have AP teachers fully explored the resources available at AP Central? I am always surprised in speaking to AP teachers who are not aware of the curriculum modules and special focus materials that are posted there. Perhaps there will a few hours during the winter break that you can click around and see what all is available.
• Have AP teachers set particular goals about topics they would like to improve based on their Instructional Planning Report and have they sought professional development opportunities to address those topics?
• By now, you have probably identified a few areas in which your students can be better prepared for their AP class through their previous coursework. Have you spoken to other teachers on your vertical team about how they might better prepare students by tweaking their curriculum, instructional strategies or assessments?
• PSAT results from October will soon be available. Have you made use of the Summary of Answers and Skills to identify strengths and weaknesses in your curriculum and instruction? Have you looked at AP Potential data to determine what students may be recruited for your AP class next year? You might want to check out some of my previous posts about utilizing PSAT results.
• Right now, many of your former students are returning from college for their winter breaks and can serve as excellent sources of motivation for your AP students by coming to your classes in early January and talking about what best prepared them for college and what they wish they had known while still in high school. Just today, one of my former students was saying how much he wished he had taken AP courses in computer science and statistics.
• Many schools will begin course registration for the 2012-2013 schoolyear in the first few weeks of the spring semester. What plans do you have in place for promoting your AP class? My school is hoping to carry out an AP Awareness Week during February. I will write about that in a future blog post.
• I know summer is really far off, but you might want to think about summer activities that will build your AP program. My school offers a summer Pre-Calculus class to juniors who are excelling in Algebra 2 who want to take AP Calculus as seniors. I need to start identifying possible candidates for that summer school class based on first semester grades. One of our principals also wants to host an “AP Boot Camp” for students who will be new to AP or PreAP classes next year.
• With the economy as it is, I will spend some time brainstorming during winter break about how we can help students who might not be able to afford their AP exam registration fees. Fee waivers are available but many families being squeezed by the economy right now might not qualify.

An AP program does not build itself. It takes hard work from students, teachers, counselors and administrators. Sometimes we get so consumed in that work that we forget to take a break and rest and rejuvenate so we can come back to our classrooms with fresh energy and motivation. Take some time to enjoy the holiday season with friends and family. I have big plans for fun during the winter break! You will hear from me again in early January. Thanks, as always, for reading.

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

October 24, 2011

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.

A Principal’s Mandate to Improve AP Scores

October 11, 2011

I recently got the following comment from one of my readers:
At the beginning of school this year our new principal showed the faculty that our passing rate for AP was 40% while the state rate was 70%. He then announced that every AP teacher would be placed into the same PLC in order to raise scores. Our school is in a working class town. We have just under 800 students. We offer 7 AP courses along with 9 ECE courses. Any suggestions about where we should start in addressing this problem. Every teacher would like their scores to improve, but as a group, we are all over the place as to what would be a good initial strategy. I have looked at our reference groups in state and we are near the top.
I do think I have some suggestions for you.
• By this time of the year, you should have determined if there are any areas of weakness that your students have come into your classes with. Now would be a good time to determine if there are things that prior year teachers could do so that next year’s crop of AP students can enter the course better prepared to hit the ground running. For example, I want my students to have fluent recall of unit circle values. When they didn’t have that, I needed to talk to our Pre-Calculus teacher about placing greater emphasis and not allowing the students to use a “cheat sheet” showing the unit circle values. In exchange for more time spent on that topic, I was also able to identify some other topics that were not as important and on which the teacher could spend less time.
• AP teachers as a group should work out a schedule for extra tutorial sessions, mock exams and Saturday prep sessions. Beginning in February, I offer additional AP prep time before or after school twice a week. I coordinate my schedule so that I don’t conflict with the other AP teachers extra tutorials. We also set our mock exams so that the students only have one or two during a week. English is able to do theirs much earlier (February) while Calculus normally waits until mid-April. You might want to find an experienced reader and hire them to score some of the English or social studies essays. You might find that an essay that your teacher scores as a 7 might only get a 3 from an experienced reader. That reader may be able to give your kids some hints and feedback to improve those scores while there is still plenty of time to incorporate those suggestions into your own teaching. As we get closer to exam time, we offer Saturday sessions with each subject getting 2 Saturdays to work with the students. We also plan that as exam week approaches, we focus on the exams that are coming up most immediately. If my exam is in two days, the AP government teacher might let me pull students from his class to spend extra time working on calculus. Then, when my exam is over, the kids use my class time to study for the later AP exams. I might have one group in class working on AP economics, another group preparing for AP chemistry, while still others go to the lab to complete an activity for AP biology.
• Spend some time trolling AP Central and make sure you have all of the resources available from there such as released exams, curriculum modules, special focus materials, etc. There is a free downloadable spreadsheet index for calculus that allows me to sort all of the released questions by topics and then incorporate them throughout the year as I hit those topics.
• Look at my blog post from 9/19/2009 on interpreting your AP Instructional planning report and spend some time as a group looking at those reports and trying to choose a few areas or topics on which to focus improvement efforts.
• Is there one subject in which the students seem to do particularly well? What is that teacher doing differently? Do teachers feel as though they need additional training? College Board does offer training or you might travel to a nearby school that is more successful and spend a day observing their classes and talking to their teachers about what they are doing differently.
• Read the post on creating master learners from 11/9/2009 and discuss as a group the extent to which you are doing this in your classes and what additional efforts might be necessary in this regard.
• Talk to the principal about what additional resources he is willing to provide to help meet the challenge he has set forth. He might need to purchase additional materials or equipment or pay to send teachers to training. He might be able to find funds to pay experienced readers to score some of your essays or to even have that reader come and spend a Saturday working with your students on improving essays.
• In January, when you are back in school but college students are still home for the holidays, have some former students come to your classes and talk about how their AP experience has helped them be more successful in college. Have them describe some of the strategies that they used in preparing for their exams.
I hope that these suggestions have given you a place to begin. Any challenge is better undertaken with a group of like-minded folk who can share ideas and strategies. Good luck to you and your fellow AP teachers.
If any of my readers have suggestions to add, please send in a comment!