A recent report by Eugene Judson, Nicole Bowers, and Kristi Glassmeyer investigates what classroom mechanisms compel students to enroll in Advanced Placement (AP) science and math courses and to complete their associated exams—and how that differs between low- and high-income schools.
The researchers first determine what value teachers believe AP experiences hold for their students and then connect these findings to teachers’ strategies for getting pupils into the classes and willing and prepared to take end-of-year tests. Survey requests were sent to all publicly available email addresses of high school science and math teachers in Arizona, as well as a listserv that was popular among physics educators in the state. For their analysis, the researchers used 143 completed survey responses. The three sets of questions that teachers answered were focused on: 1) goals teachers held for their AP students, including passing the exam, experiencing college-level work, building confidence or interest in the subject area, improving chances of college admission, and gaining confidence in their ability to succeed in college; 2) the weight teachers placed on these particular AP outcomes when pushing students to enroll and persist in their courses; and 3) recruitment mechanisms. For context, the researchers asked whether taking the AP exam was a course requirement and whether teachers encouraged all or a subset of enrolled students to take the exam. The survey data are also disaggregated by teachers from Title I and non-Title I schools to uncover any discrepancies between schools’ socioeconomic levels.
Judson et al. found that the two most prominent goals that teachers held for their AP students were for them to experience college-level work and to build confidence in the subject. Their least important objective was to improve students’ chances of college admission. Thus, when examining the outcomes that teachers stressed in their recruitment efforts, they placed the greatest emphasis on academic preparation for college and earning college credit for qualifying exam grades. For course recruitment, at least 60 percent of the teachers reported speaking with their own non-AP students, fellow teachers in prior grades directing students, and counselors advising students to enroll in their AP courses. For exam recruitment, the most common mechanism was to waive the final course exam for students who take the AP exam, followed by the school covering the cost of exam fees, teachers’ general encouragement without targeted strategies, and giving extra credit for attending exam preparation sessions. Almost all teachers who required students to take the AP exam still reported using recruitment mechanisms to obtain buy-in from students and their families.
Between Title I and non-Title I teachers, there were significant differences in the weighted values that both groups placed on AP experiences, as well as the usage of specific recruitment mechanisms. Teachers at lower-SES schools saw greater value in AP enrollment for building confidence and interest in the subject, improving chances of college admissions, and increasing student self-efficacy for future college success. As a result, Title I schools more frequently employed recruitment mechanisms. For example, 44 percent of Title I teachers required students to complete the AP exam, in comparison to about 19 percent of non-Title I teachers. And Title I schools paid for AP exam fees at a rate seven times that of non-Title I schools. Math teachers at Title I schools were also more than three times as likely to report communicating with parents in an earlier grade as a recruitment strategy. This suggests that Title I teachers perceive AP enrollment as a gateway to college in a way that non-Title I teachers do not.
The study doesn’t measure the extent to which these recruitment mechanisms are effective. That is, we can’t surmise that waiving final course exams alone causes a certain number of students to choose to enroll in an AP course in a given year. With the multitude of recruitment mechanisms that are used simultaneously—along with other factors that contribute to students’ decisions to pursue an AP track, such as parents’ wishes or a desire to maintain a friend group—it would be difficult to measure the impact that each of the proposed strategies actually has on student completion of AP courses and exams. Perhaps future research can begin to investigate this question by conducting student surveys on which recruitment mechanisms affected their individual choice to enroll and to what degree.
Overall, this study illuminates teachers’ views on the importance of AP courses, which is helpful because their value judgments inform the type and amount of recruitment that is done at the school and classroom level. It appears that teachers at Title I schools actively recruit more than teachers at non-Title I schools because they know their students need a stronger push and additional support to enroll and persist in AP courses and to complete the exams. Whether these recruitment mechanisms are effective or not, the reality is that AP enrollment and exam completion rates are increasing. Now we just need to ensure that passing rates are keeping up.
SOURCE: Eugene Judson, Nicole Bowers, and Kristi Glassmeyer, “Recruiting and Encouraging Students to Complete Advanced Placement Science and Math Courses and Exams: Policies and Practices,” Journal for the Education of the Gifted (June 2019).