Raising Rigor, Getting Results: Lessons Learned from AP Expansion

David Wakelyn from the NGA Center for Best Practices
August 2009

Ohio lags behind the nation when it comes to Advanced Placement (AP) courses. In 2008, the state had only about 18 percent of high-school students taking an AP exam (compared to 25 percent in the U.S.), and only 11 percent of Ohio AP students scored proficient or higher on the exams (compared to over 15 percent nationally).

In 2005, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices launched a major initiative to expand AP courses in order to include more low-income and minority students and funded AP expansion in 51 schools across the country. In Raising Rigor, Getting Results: Lessons Learned from AP Expansion, David Wakelyn checks in on how the initiative has affected student outcomes over the last four years.

The project increased the number of AP courses available and guided schools in recruiting underserved student populations through three strategies. First, schools expanded access to as many students as possible by lowering the selectivity level for AP courses. Second, schools built teacher capacity through additional training and offered extra learning support to students through seminars, summer prep classes, and study groups. Finally, the project created incentives for students and schools. Students were able to increase their GPAs in weighted AP courses, compete for special college scholarships, and even receive monetary incentives for good AP exam scores. Schools also benefited financially for making classes available.

The efforts of the initiative delivered promising results, with the number of minority and low-income students taking AP classes more than doubling. Admittedly, the extent to which there may be a tradeoff between AP enrollment and the quality of courses remains unclear (see more here and here). AP classes are proven to decrease the amount of time it takes for students to graduate from college and carry a lot of weight when students apply for college admission and scholarships. This has the potential to help more low-income and minority students go on to higher education. While this is a worthwhile goal, NGA cannot possibly fund similar projects in every high school as AP programs are very costly. States could fund more college-level learning opportunities for high-school students, but will they be willing to pay the price?