How Glenbard South closed enrollment gaps in AP classes
Mary Lowery finds a quiet place to work on an assignment in her AP language class.
She's on her lunch break at Glenbard South High School, but she steers clear of the cafeteria. She needs to stay on task.
"It's a good space to focus," the junior says inside the AP Student Center.
It's also a new resource at Glenbard South, where educators have worked to broaden access to Advanced Placement classes.
The number of minorities and students from low-income families who have signed up for AP courses is now proportional to the overall enrollment of minority and low-income students at the Glen Ellyn school.
Less than 1 percent of schools across the country have AP and International Baccalaureate programs with such proportional enrollment, according to Equal Opportunity Schools, a Seattle nonprofit group that has helped the district recruit more teens for classes tough enough for college.
"Often times we've made the mistake in education of pegging students and saying, 'you're in these AP classes,'" Glenbard High School District 87 Superintendent David Larson said.
"But were working really hard in Glenbard to say, 'No, the sky is the limit if you work hard and are committed.'"
The Daily Herald recently talked with Principal Sandra Coughlin about the AP program at South. This is an edited conversation.
Q. How does exposure to AP courses benefit students?
A. Our expectation is that all of our students will go on to do something postsecondary. Having a college-level course under their belt, they know what the expectation is.
It also just gives them an example of high rigor, high expectations, not that all of our classes aren't, but when you have a course -- the entire group that's in there is thinking college-bound, higher ed -- it just feels a little different.
I want kids to be able to try it. I value that, and we send a message that we value that.
Q. South is the only school in the district to fully close AP enrollment gaps between minorities and low-income students and their peers. What was the difference?
A. Our outreach plan helped us. It's so much about the personal connections, and being a smaller school (roughly 1,200 total enrollment), we're able to reach out to kids and see them in maybe smaller, more frequent ways than in the bigger schools.
I was at Glenbard East for 17 years. Twice the size. I would maybe see the same student once a week. Here, I see them two to three times a day.
So our staff makes really close connections with kids. They're able to have honest conversations with them.
Q. Are you concerned about AP exam scores dropping with more students taking them?
A. We anticipate that with more students going into courses, we'll probably see a dip, and I think that implementation curve is always going to be there every time you try something new.
That's why we're trying to do so many supports along the way, so it's not so much of a dip that kids feel like they're hung out there and they don't know how to recoup some of their grading.
Q. South has a new AP Student Center, open to teens during lunch. Tell us about it.
A. It's a studious environment, but they have academic supports. We're trying to work with them on how do you create a study group.
We're just not making it for first-time AP'ers. It's open to everybody because we know that everyone sets examples for each other.
We have an AP adviser position and she tracks the data, she communicates with kids, parents, teachers. It's all about just letting them know we're here to help support you.
Q. On Dec. 9, the district will host a symposium at South for other schools about identifying new AP students. What are some lessons to share with educators?
A. I really value the personal relationships with kids. You can't just be saying "you need to be in that class," or put them in there. The kids need to know that you have their best interests at heart. When you have really caring relationships with kids, they can tell who's fake and they can tell who's not.
I would say think outside the box. You know your own building. You know your staff and students, so get all the stakeholders together to figure out some ideas and brainstorm.
If there's no ceiling, what could be the possibilities? And I did an activity like that at the start of last school year and had the faculty just brainstorm, if there were no restrictions, no parameters, what could we do to increase AP (enrollment) and AP passing rate?
My advice would be: Shoot for the moon, take everyone along for the ride and really have relationships that matter.
Q. How do you know these increases are here to stay and not just a short-term blip on the radar?
A. You're going to see each year different students. So it's hard to compare apples to apples because it's not the same class of students each time, their abilities, their interests, their desires.
My mission statement is all students will learn at high levels. It doesn't matter their ability level, where they're at, but as long as they keep growing on the spectrum.
From the time that we enrolled students in the spring to the start of the school year, there's only been a five-student difference, so kids made a commitment. They're continuing in that.
But we need to make sure that these students don't feel like you've had an open invitation for one year and now you don't. No, you are an AP student.
By the numbersHere's a look at Glenbard District 87's Advanced Placement program:
• 874 juniors and seniors in underrepresented groups enrolled in AP classes at the district's four schools for the current school year
• 155.6 percent increase in low-income African-American juniors and seniors enrolled in AP over one year
• 69 percent increase in medium/high-income African-American juniors and seniors enrolled in AP over one year
• 81.7 percent increase in low-income Hispanic juniors and seniors enrolled in AP over one year
• 16.5 percent increase in medium/high-income Hispanic juniors and seniors enrolled in AP over one year
• 8,150 total enrollment in the district, down from 8,971 in 2007
• 2,438 students were tested in spring 2016, up from 1,095 in 2007
• Districtwide AP exam passing rate of 72 percent in spring 2016, down from 81 percent in 2007
• 42 percent of graduating seniors in the Class of 2016 had passed at least one AP exam during their four years in high school
Source: Glenbard District 87