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How to Expand AP Access? Let's Count the Ways

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The National Governors Association's effort to pay states to increase participation of minority and low-income students in Advanced Placement courses has been successful, according to a report on the association's Advanced Placement Expansion project released today.

Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada, and Wisconsin received grants as part of the project, and, according to the report, they collectively succeeded in raising the number of students who took AP classes in their states by 65 percent over two years. The number of minority and low-income students taking the courses more than doubled.

But what's perhaps most interesting about the report is not the generalizations about how the states overall increased participation of minority and low-income youths but rather explanations about how they did it. I'll list examples of some of the policies here:

—Alabama, Kentucky, and Nevada used online-learning technology to increase access to AP in rural areas.

—Kentucky expanded the possibilities that middle school students would be prepared to take AP courses by using the College Board's SpringBoard curriculum.

—In April 2008, Kentucky's governor, Steve Beshear, signed legislation that gives public schools financial incentives for offering AP science and math courses.

The report also gives some examples of policies supportive of AP access in states that weren't piloting the expansion project. It says, for instance, that Arkansas and West Virginia require every high school to provide at least four AP courses in the content areas of English, mathematics, science, and social studies. In addition, Michigan, Minnesota, and New Mexico require every student to have a college-level learning experience before graduating from high school.

The project was financed by the NGA Center for Best Practices.

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An area school board member recently told an AP teacher that AP classes should be discontinued at the teacher's high school because the school has had a poor record of students scoring 4s and 5s on the AP exams - even though the teacher has never taught an AP course and the course being taught by the teacher will be introduced for the first time this academic year.

Question: is the goal - and therefore, worth - of the AP course, as promoted by the National Governors' Association, be to involve students in higher level course work or produce students who score 4s and 5s? Is it appropriate for a board member to evaluate a program soley on test scores?

I have been a board member, albeit in a different district in a different state, but I have always believed that the success of a program cannot be judged solely on how many students earned the best scores on an assessment.

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