It Takes a Team to Open Enrollment in Advanced Placement®
It Takes a Team to Open Enrollment in Advanced Placement®By Joanne Lang, Executive Vice President, Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation, Executive Director, AdvanceKentucky
At the start of another school year, we are reminded daily of the power of embracing high expectations for rigorous student learning. This is our annual time to reflect on what makes the difference. Kentucky was one of the ‘pioneer states’ selected by the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) to replicate its proven AP Teacher Training and Incentive Program. As a result, AdvanceKentucky was created as an initiative of Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation in partnership with Kentucky Department of Education and NMSI and several other funding partners.
Often I’m asked “What’s the one element that has made the most difference in the extraordinary Advanced Placement (AP) gains among AdvanceKentucky schools?” They are speaking of what we affectionately call our Wheel of Success – the integrated support systems for students and their teachers proven by NMSI. The system offers an open enrollment approach to AP that is grounded in high expectations and soft landings that make it ‘safe’ for both teachers and students to try and if necessary try again. We know, after eight cohorts of participating Kentucky high schools, that adopting all of the elements of the NMSI model simultaneously is essential. The key is an inherent belief that many more high school students can perform at AP levels. And the AdvanceKentucky team starts each year with the collective expectation that many more students from our participating schools, particularly those traditionally underrepresented in AP, will earn qualifying scores on the next AP exams.
So far in 92 schools, with almost 700 AP math, science and English (MSE) teachers supporting some 70,000 AP MSE enrollees, we’ve seen many permutations on how this shift in open enrollment thinking can be translated into sustainable, locally relevant practices.
Adopting open enrollment recruitment strategies is insufficient without a review of policies and practices. Here are some examples of both immediate and long-term considerations – some that don’t require funding and others that might benefit from reassigning existing funds.
- As we shift our focus to how we can help many more students to participate in AP, do any policies inadvertently discourage students from even asking about AP – and how do we know this? For example, do our summer assignments offer inviting preparation options or are they written in a way that ultimately discourages students from even asking about AP? Are ‘late bloomers’ made to feel welcome in AP?
- Know the profile of students that earned a ‘2’ on the most recent AP exams. Know well what it would have taken for the majority of them to earn a qualifying score and think of these as strategic opportunities to enhance student learning – not as ‘failures’.
- Consider creative scheduling, if possible. For example, is it feasible to offer AP Biology for 10th graders so that access to AP math and science courses isn’t limited to junior and senior years?
- Look for added supports that the school could provide to students. Might we make it a priority to offer study hall for AP students throughout the day for extra help? Can we arrange extended school services for transportation for extra help before or after school? Now that we’ve broadened access, how will we help subsidize exam fees? Are our labs equipped sufficiently for many more students to ‘do’ science at the AP level?
- Are teacher evaluations in any way based on AP ‘pass rates’ (i.e., the number of qualifying scores earned divided by the number of AP exams taken)? While perhaps somewhat counterintuitive, placing a ‘value’ on pass rates actually incents a ‘selective’ enrollment environment. This practice may inadvertently discourage a teacher from recruiting many more students to enroll in his/her AP class and it can unconsciously dampen the level of enthusiasm for encouraging students to sit for the AP exam. Strive relentlessly for strong pass rates but be ready for them to perhaps take a dip while simultaneously increasing the number of students receiving qualifying scores. Over time we see instances where these rates return to baseline.
- Set quantifiable growth goals for numbers of qualifying scores for a school and individual teachers compared to their own prior performance. What constitutes many more students in a high school of 2,000 with AP experience is vastly different than in a school of 750 or even less than 500 total students enrolled and little or no AP experience. One size does not fit all.
- Never stop training teachers to enhance their content knowledge. Kentucky recently enjoyed access to five weeks of local APSIs, more than double the access when AdvanceKentucky began. Reach out to university partners willing to step up to respond to a growing demand for this training. For teachers who are willing to take on the open enrollment approach find them mentors who have successfully embraced open enrollment and who know well the challenges of making this shift and sustaining student success.
- Pay attention to the teachers of AP feeder classes and team them with AP teachers. It’s not coincidental that almost 3,000 Kentucky MSE teachers of feeder, Pre-AP classes among our middle and high schools have received multi-year content training by Kentucky educators who are NMSI-endorsed national trainers.
This fundamental shift in approach needs thoughtful orientation and plenty of time for reflection and discussion followed by action planning and goal setting. A successful shift requires a team approach in which healthy skepticism forces the team to ask all the ‘what if’ questions and reflect on locally relevant solutions. These are embraced only with sufficient time, which is why we begin working with interested schools almost a year in advance of formal implementation. It takes time to take a fresh, in-depth look at student data and review policies and practices that inadvertently may be discouraging AP participation – despite best intentions.
In short, take seriously the College Board Equity and Access Policy but figure out what this means to your local circumstances. It takes a team to open enrollment in AP and sustain high expectations for students and teachers. At the risk of oversimplifying a major policy challenge, is your goal to filter students out of an AP class because they’re not ‘ready’ – or to embrace high expectations through open enrollment whereby we deliberately look for signals to include students even if you know they will need support from the wheel of success? Likewise, do your policies and practices strive for resulting in more students ‘enrolling’ in college or for more that are so well prepared with the ‘AP experience’ that many more students ‘graduate’ from college with a credential? The policy direction you take matters.
If you think this scenario is nice but not the answer, I agree. However, evidence suggests that it is an answer for addressing college readiness and helping to close the gap among students traditionally underrepresented in AP. Please keep reading for the measurable impact that only about one-third of Kentucky’s public high schools with open enrollment have had on advancing the state’s overall AP standing.
- In the first five years after AdvanceKentucky was introduced Kentucky overall experienced a 100 percent increase in number of AP qualifying scores in all subjects and 137 percent increase in underrepresented minority qualifying scores -- compared to US increases of 49 percent and 88 percent respectively.
- The number of AP Scholars statewide increased roughly 350 percent during this same timeframe. With dramatic acceleration in AP MSE access, participation and performance, we have seen student interest spilling over to other AP subjects and contributing to Kentucky’s overall position among the top states in qualifying score increases from 2008-2013; and 2014 results promise to be just as encouraging.
- Kentucky’s AP MSE qualifying scores increased 105 percent and minority qualifying scores by 180 percent. In math-science only, minority scores increased 183 percent.
- About one-third of participating AdvanceKentucky schools is located in the rural Appalachian region, which has kept pace with 100 percent increases among these rural schools.
- Among schools that have participated for a standard three-year intervention, they earned an average 229 percent increase in AP MSE qualifying scores, while qualifying scores earned by low income students increased an average 424 percent and an average 411 percent in scores earned by minority students.
In 2013, the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics released an independent research study that examined the longitudinal impact of our approach on the initial 10,500 students of AdvanceKentucky vs a control group. This study found that more AdvanceKentucky students enrolled in college and far fewer of them enrolled in college remedial classes (and there was almost negligible remediation for students earning qualifying scores). The same benefit was demonstrated among AdvanceKentucky students who were from underrepresented minority and low income populations. The study will be updated annually.
Links below offer details on the data behind the story:
- AdvanceKentucky Five-Year Performance Review: 2008-2013
- Kentucky Department of Education Media Release and 2013 Research Study on Longitudinal Impact of the AP Experience Among AdvanceKentucky Students
- US Department of EdBlog (2013) - Progress: Teachers, Leaders Students Transforming Education “To Get More Students Ready for College and Careers, Kentucky Expands Access to Advanced Placement for Low-Income Students”
Thank you for the opportunity to share this story from Kentucky.