Pilot Found to Boost AP Participation Rate

By Michele McNeil — August 10, 2009 3 min read
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A two-year effort by the National Governors Association to expand Advanced Placement programs in six states resulted in a 65 percent increase in student enrollment in those introductory college-level courses and an even bigger increase among minority students, a report out today says.

As part of a pilot project to expand the number of AP courses offered in schools and the number of students who participate, the Washington-based NGA Center for Best Practices in 2005 awarded six states $500,000 each to target one urban and one rural school district, with a particular emphasis on getting more minority students involved in those classes. (“Rigorous Courses, Fresh Enrollment,” May 9, 2007.)

Two years later, in the 2007-08 school year, the number of minority students in AP classes had jumped 106 percent, according to the center’s report. Of the 8,558 students in such classes in the pilot schools, 2,485, or nearly 30 percent, were minority students.

The grant money allowed the pilot states—Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada, and Wisconsin—to devise strategies to improve the number of AP classes offered, provide incentives for schools and students to take part, and bolster teacher training and student support.

For example, Alabama, Kentucky, and Nevada expanded virtual-learning technology to make AP classes available online for students in rural areas. Other states, such as Maine, worked to expand enrollment by encouraging teachers and administrators to engage in one-on-one recruiting with promising students, especially minorities and those from low-income families.

Nevada’s pilot district, meanwhile, required all sophomores who scored “proficient” on the state’s standardized test to take AP English Composition as juniors, and AP English Literature as seniors—after getting a double dose of English to prepare them for the more difficult classes.

“I think [this grant] leaves the existing schools we worked with in decent shape to keep growing,” said David Wakelyn, the program director for the education division of the NGA Center for Best Practices who directed the AP grant project. “This is one piece of a larger strategy on high school reform.”

For example, college readiness is a big part of a current push by the NGA and other education groups to bring common academic standards to all states. (“46 States Agree to Common Academic Standards Effort,” June 10, 2009.)

College Credits

Advanced Placement, a program of the New York City-based College Board, offers high schoolers an opportunity for college credit in more than 30 subjects, ranging from high-level mathematics and science to fine arts, if they score well on a standardized end-of-course exam.

While enrollment numbers in the pilot schools have increased, so has performance in those subjects, the report says. In the pilot sites, the percentage of students earning a score of 3 or higher on the 5-point scale increased from 6.6 percent in the 2005-06 school year to 8.3 percent two years later. (A score of at least 3 is considered a predictor of college success.) That’s faster progress than the national average.

Overall levels of performance and the percentage of students who take the exam in the six pilot states, however, remain below the national average. In 2007-08, 15.2 percent of students nationwide scored a 3 or higher, according to the report. In addition, the percentage of students who not only took the classes but also took the AP exam in those pilot sites, 70 percent, was slightly lower than the national average of 75 percent.

Now that the NGA’s work with the six states is done, the question of how to sustain the programs, and student and teacher interest, persists, especially with states’ facing tough budget conditions.

For example, the report highlights that Kentucky has done the most to spur schools to offer the advanced classes, including the passage of legislation in 2008 creating financial incentives for schools and districts to do so.

“Problem is, there was no money allocated for those incentives,” said Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the state’s education department, noting that Kentucky is still in a budget crunch. “The intent of the legislation is great—but we just don’t have the money to do it.”

A version of this article appeared in the August 26, 2009 edition of Education Week as Pilot Found to Boost AP Participation Rate


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