Across Colorado, students who don’t normally attend Advanced Placement (A.P.)* classes are not only attending, but also are earning passing scores in those classes. This is thanks to the Colorado Legacy Schools Initiative (CLSI) and its outreach to 23 high schools throughout the state. The Initiative’s purpose is to dramatically increase the number and diversity of students succeeding in math, science, and English A.P. courses.
A 2013 report by the Education Trust, Finding America’s Missing AP and IB Students, notes that while 91 percent of American public school students in 2010 attended high schools that offered A.P courses, only about 12 percent of those students participated in the courses. Moreover, that participation disproportionally favored middle- and high-income students, who were three times more likely to enroll in A.P. courses as low-income students. Similar advanced course participation disparities were found between racial and ethnic student groups. White students participated at the 12-percent national average for A.P. enrollment and Asian students at more than twice that rate. By contrast, the A.P. participation rates for black, American Indian, and Hispanic students ranged from six to nine percent. The “real advanced-course opportunity gap lies … not between schools, but within them,” the report noted, estimating that “if all groups of students attending AP schools were served equally, more than 640,000 additional low-income students and students of color would benefit.”
Other research supports CLSI’s commitment to seeing that students not just take A.P. courses but pass their rigorous exams, increasing the students’ competitiveness for college admissions and advance course credits, as well as their eligibility for scholarships, potential to double major or study abroad, and the likelihood of graduating in four years.
“The Colorado Legacy Schools Initiative is about changing the culture of learning environments so that every student has the opportunity to receive the support they need to succeed in A.P. coursework,” said Helayne Jones, president and CEO of the Colorado Education Initiative (CEI), formerly known as the Colorado Legacy Foundation, which runs the CLSI program. Many CLSI schools showed a 70-percent increase in the number of students who earned a passing score of three or more on the math, science, and English A.P. exams in the 2012-2013 school year. “These outstanding results equate to 522 new high school students who have had the opportunity to participate and succeed in rigorous A.P. coursework.”
Open enrollment coupled with support for students and teachers
Achieving these results required a transformation in school culture around the value of A.P. programs. The Colorado Legacy Schools Initiative, a replication of the proven National Math and Science Initiative’s (NMSI) College Readiness Program (CRP), formerly the Advanced Placement Training and Incentive Program, is bringing about this change. The local program is possible through a partnership between the Colorado Education Initiative and NMSI. NMSI received a nearly $15 million Investing in Innovation (i3) Validation grant in 2011.The U.S. Department of Defense and Exxon Mobil Corporation provided initial funding for the Colorado Legacy Schools Initiative.
Instead of the traditional approach to A.P. enrollment, where schools focus on encouraging students who are expected to pass A.P. courses to participate, CLSI prepares teachers to encourage open enrollment from a wide range of students and support high-need students who take these classes. This approach has yielded strong results: Twenty-one percent of 964 minority students in the CLSI schools scored a three or higher on their A.P. exams in 2013, as compared with an average passing rate of only three percent for minority students in Colorado (the overall pass rate for Colorado students is 14 percent). To bring about this growth, the CLSI team collaborated with its 23 high schools to implement the program’s key components: student recruitment and support for both students and teachers.
The CLSI schools’ A.P. course recruitment policy is in keeping with the CRP’s emphasis on creating school environments where all students are treated as capable of succeeding in rigorous courses. Students are supported with enhancements in learning technology in the classroom and needed supplies, Saturday Study Sessions, and structured tutorials with teachers each week. Intense professional development for A.P. teachers — upwards of 150 hours annually — is combined with coaching in order to expand their content knowledge. There are also financial incentives for students and teachers to affirm that the students’ achievement in rigorous courses as well as the teachers’ performance and extra work are valued.
Celebrating success in Jefferson County
Students at the Arvada High School in Jefferson County (Jeffco), Colo., were recently recognized for outstanding success in the project. The student body was joined by state and community leaders from education, including Robert Hammond, Colorado Commissioner of Education; Cindy Stevenson, former superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools; Helayne Jones, president and CEO of the Colorado Education Initiative; Dale Fleury, NMSI’s senior regional director; and members of the local business community. Click here for the thoughts of several Arvada High students on their A.P. course experiences.
“The A.P. teachers and students at Arvada High School far exceeded our expectations last year. Their 95-percent growth in passing math, science, and English A.P. scores was over 10 times the state and national average,” said Gregg Fleisher, chief academic officer at the National Math and Science Initiative. “Through our partner, the Colorado Legacy Foundation (Colorado Education Initiative), we are proud to support Arvada and the state of Colorado to ensure more students have the opportunity to pursue careers in STEM fields.”
Validation efforts will impact 25,000 new A.P. course takers
Success breeds more success. In the current school year, 23 Colorado high schools in rural, urban, and suburban school districts are participating in CLSI. A third cohort of 10 schools was added to the initiative this spring. Schools’ interest in participating far exceeds CLSI’s current capacity: Eighty-eight schools have applied to date for the 33 available slots for the 2014-15 school year. Project leaders expect to serve 30 high schools and 60 feeder middle schools by the end of the five-year grant period, supporting more than 25,000 new A.P. students, specifically targeting high-need schools with large minority and low-income populations. This school year, CLSI students are expected to earn nearly 2,600 qualifying scores on A.P. math, science, and English exams at the project’s 23 schools.
Evaluating the impact of CLSI’s support will include an assessment of CLSI students’ college course-taking behavior. CEI has partnered with the Colorado Department of Higher Education to conduct a longitudinal comparative analysis of the postsecondary results of Legacy Schools’ A.P. students compared to their matched peers.
As the i3 project’s evaluation efforts continue, reports from participating students, like Megan of Arvada High School, clearly attest to its positive and potentially lasting impact on the lives of Colorado students. “The best thing about A.P. classes is you get the prep for college and you get to learn so much more than you ever would have imagined in high school,” she said. “What I really like about it is they have study sessions which teach you how to take the test, how to answer the questions, and what you should really be looking for. It’s difficult and challenging, but you have no idea how much it prepares you. It expands your mind to places you never thought it could go.”
Diana Huffman is a public affairs specialist in the Office of Communications and Outreach, Region 8-Denver Office.
*Advanced Placement and A.P. are registered trademarks of the College Board.