How Glenbard high schools got more students to enroll in AP classes
Glenbard High School District 87 has a new framework in place designed to broaden access to advanced placement classes.
The district became one of only seven in Illinois to work with Equal Opportunity Schools, a Seattle nonprofit group that seeks to close the enrollment gap and boost the number of minority and low-income students taking AP classes -- the kind that award college credit if they receive passing scores on exams.
That has been an area of focus in the district for years, but the partnership gave educators new data and strategies to open the door for students who are capable of taking the classes but may have previously fallen through the cracks.
"It's about creating access and opportunities for all students and removing labels or any type of perceptions that we may have as to why a kid should or should not be taking an AP course," Glenbard East High School Principal Shahe Bagdasarian said.
Last fall, Equal Opportunity Schools first polled teachers and students at all four Glenbard high schools. The surveys asked teens about their career interests and academic goals, what keeps them from taking AP courses and who they view as "trusted adults" at their school.
At Glenbard East, the survey showed students wanted more time during the school day devoted to AP work, and teachers wanted more time for instruction. Roughly 90 percent of students and 96 percent of staff completed it.
With that in mind, AP English Language Composition, AP Environmental Science and AP Human Geography -- the three most popular advanced courses at East -- each will become 72-minute classes next school year, up from 48 minutes.
In addition to survey responses, Equal Opportunity Schools took data from student test scores and grade-point averages to create "student insight cards" to help decide which teens would make a good fit for AP.
An apple on the card represents a teacher who endorsed the student for the courses. Those "trusted adults" also are listed and can encourage that student to reconsider AP. What's more, educators can match students to AP classes in their areas of interest.
Glenbard East now has the cards for all sophomores and juniors.
"That was so beneficial and really I think was one of the main drivers in the success we've had this year with our enrollment," Bagdasarian said.
The process identified roughly 300 potential AP candidates. Guidance counselors helped trim the list to about 180 students, who became the focus of an outreach campaign.
Along with teachers, Bagdasarian and other administrators have been meeting with students, urging them to take another look at an AP class or stay the course if they're already an AP student.
The data gleaned from Equal Opportunity Schools "really built that personal touch to the conversation," Bagdasarian said. So far, educators "still have some work to do to close that gap completely," he said, but they're pleased by enrollment gains.
"We've been doing a lot of this work already," Bagdasarian said. "The difference here is we have taken more of a schoolwide approach to this, and with that there's also some mindset shifts that need to take place across students, staff, parents."
In AP Environmental Science, for instance, 133 East students are set to take the class next fall, up from 90 this year and about 30 just three years ago.
Equal Opportunity Schools also helped the district set up new tools to prepare AP students and teachers. In the summer, an "AP Launch" program will help first-time AP students develop the mindset they'll need in the fall.
"And that's really the foundation of what we're doing with our students, trying to teach them study skills, good study habits, reinforcing the work ethic, emphasizing that hard work and the right mindset is really going to determine success in these programs," Bagdasarian said.
All the high schools will have an "AP Learning Center" run by retired teachers to help reinforce those study skills and check in on students' progress. Teens new to AP also will be matched with student mentors who already have taken an AP class and will offer tutoring. The district will provide training for teachers.
District 87 expects to spend about $140,000 on those supports for students and teachers and is applying for a grant to help offset the cost.
With more AP students, how have test results fared? The district has said its passing percentage -- 73 percent in 2015 -- has decreased incrementally in recent years, but is still much higher than the state average.
Even with broader access, the district wants 60 percent of graduating seniors in spring 2018 to have passed at least one AP exam during their four years in high school.
Roughly 46 percent of East seniors fall into that category now, Bagdasarian said.
He expects an "implementation dip" on scores. But he also notes that AP students are being "exposed to a very rigorous curriculum" and are more likely to do well in entry-level courses in college.
"It just gives them more of that hook to keep them on the college track and graduate," he said.