Advanced Placement (AP) classes should be available to all students, not just the ones with the privilege or preparation to jump through the right hoops. At IDEA Public Schools, a public charter school network that serves a predominantly Hispanic and economically disadvantaged student population, all students have the opportunity to take AP courses. In fact, 24 percent of the class of 2017 became AP Scholars by passing three or more AP exams. However, a recent New York Times article questioned the benefit of AP courses for students from underserved populations. Here in San Antonio—specifically at IDEA Carver, the first IDEA Public Schools campus in San Antonio—the evidence is clear that AP courses are helping to close the achievement gap.
What are critics saying about high school programs that offer AP classes to low-income black and Latino students? A recent article suggested that expanding AP offerings was a “boondoggle” for the testing company to make more money on fees. “Who Benefits From the Expansion of AP Classes?”, Alina Tugend, New York Times, September 7, 2017
The Times article focused on H.D. Woodson High School in Washington, D.C. At the end of the 2016-17 school year, “four students out of 162 who took the exams at Woodson passed.” Among students in the AP U.S. Government class featured in the article, “There were 20 1s, four 2s, one 3 and a lone 5.” The Times article looked for a financial motive: “[I]n 2015, $408 million came from fees for the [AP] test and instructional materials.” The implication is that expanding AP courses leaves unprepared students with crushed egos and low scores (1s and 2s) that don’t convert to college credit, while the College Board laughs all the way to the bank.
On the contrary, the evidence in San Antonio shows that underserved students are benefitting from expanded access to AP courses through the AP For All program at IDEA Public Schools. The program helps students prepare for the rigor of college, get college credit while still in high school, build up a transcript to impress college admissions, and—once they get to college—to skip introductory classes.
IDEA Public Schools—winner of the 2016 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools—has 20 campuses in San Antonio, and IDEA Carver now serves students up to 11th grade. Esquiel Cantu, an 11th grader at IDEA Carver College Prep, has reaped the benefits of the AP For All program. To date, Esquiel has taken five AP exams. Just last year, he took AP Statistics, AP World History, AP Art History, and AP Chemistry.
Chang Yu, Principal of IDEA Carver College Prep, explained how taking those AP courses and exams will help Esquiel prepare for college.
- AP For All helps students prepare for the rigors of college. “The moment a student steps into an AP classroom, they are guaranteed a rigorous, college-level class that will challenge and prepare them for the college or university of their choice,” said Yu.
- Esquiel has the opportunity to earn college credit while he is still in high school. Yu estimates that an AP Scholar will bring enough credits with them to college to save $6,000 in tuition, fees, textbooks, etc. That makes college more affordable for families.
- Next year, when Esquiel applies for college, the AP credits on his transcript will help him stand out to college admissions officers. “They will get a solid understanding of what Esquiel experienced in high school, and they know he will be prepared for the increased challenges of college,” added Yu.
- In two years, once Esquiel is enrolled in college, he will be able to skip some introductory courses and just dive into the courses he needs for his major.
In the Rio Grande Valley, where IDEA Public Schools campuses are more established, students have already been graduating and taking their AP credits to college. Thanks to the AP classes she took and passed in school, Kalena Vila graduated from IDEA College Preparatory Donna with more than 20 college credits. She started her college career ahead of the game and secured her bachelor’s degree in psychology in just two years. Now, she is pursuing her master’s degree. In a few years, IDEA students in San Antonio will have stories like that to share, too.
Critics of offering AP courses to at-risk students claim that it’s a false promise when too many students earn low scores on the exams. However, at IDEA, the College Preparatory programs are built to help students succeed. Student progress in the AP For All program is monitored by a team of teachers, counselors, and interventionists to ensure that all students are receiving the support and tools they need to be successful. In fact, the teachers themselves take AP exams so they are qualified to guide the students. Even the critics acknowledge that students who attempt AP courses and exams still get the benefit of the rigor and expectations of a college-level course.
With AP courses, the expectations are clear because it’s a nationally-normed curriculum. College admissions officers can make comparisons about courses from schools across the country. Parents who are deciding where to enroll their children can expect high standards from AP courses. The consistent features of AP courses include a high volume of reading and writing, a focus on learning and defining independent study skills, and the necessity of good time management.
In 2016-17, students across the IDEA Public Schools network took more than 10,000 AP exams. Preparation begins with pre-AP courses in sixth grade. Students take AP Human Geography in 9th grade. By 12th grade, the course sequence includes 11 AP courses. IDEA schools surprise experts by consistently appearing in lists of the best American high schools, despite serving a predominantly Hispanic, high-poverty population. As mentioned above, 24 percent of the class of 2017 passed three or more exams, earning AP Scholar Awards; the goal is to keep raising that number.
Despite what the critics may say elsewhere, in Texas it’s clear that the AP For All program at IDEA Public Schools in helping to close the achievement gap by preparing underserved students for success in college. IDEA’s College Preparatory programs offer AP courses to all students, not just a few. Every year, more IDEA students pass AP exams, which means more students are entering college prepared for rigorous coursework and with college credit already on their transcripts, helping them to graduate from college within four years and reduce the cost of college.
- “Should teachers take standardized tests? One charter school system thinks so,” Jay Mathews, Washington Post, September 3, 2017
- “AP For All at IDEA Public Schools,” sponsored post, Rivard Report, July 5, 2017
- “IDEA and BASIS Chart a Rigorous Course to Top Rankings,” Bekah McNeel, Rivard Report, May 22, 2017
- “IDEA Public Schools Provides Advanced Placement Classes for All Students,” sponsored post, Alamo City Moms Blog, December 15, 2016
- “That’s the Idea: Some schools serving low-income students believe in a challenge,” Jay Mathews, Washington Post, April 17, 2016
- “IDEA Public Schools reports success amid questions around data reporting,” Erin McIntyre, Education Dive, November 5, 2015