Encouraging AP: Developing an AP Culture

When talking with many of our schools, we hear that one of the keys to building a successful AP program is fostering an environment where academic achievement is valued, especially within the AP context. Many of our Iowa Online AP Academy schools and AP Index schools report that developing an AP culture has been key to their school’s efforts in increasing AP course and exam participation, which can lead to greater opportunities for students. For schools where AP participation is low or other opportunities, such as dual enrollment, may be more popular, how can staff create a culture that encourages AP participation?

  • Ensure students are prepared for advanced coursework in high school. Many AP courses have prerequisites to ensure that students are challenged without being frustrated. The College Board encourages schools to consider developing courses beginning in sixth grade that provide this foundation through Pre-AP. Because Pre-AP courses can take many forms, schools have some flexibility in how they choose to implement these guidelines. For some schools, taking advantage of the IOAPA middle school classes may be a great way to introduce the idea of AP preparation within their district.
  • Provide opportunities for students to learn about AP courses. Many schools provide an AP Information Night that allows students and parents to ask questions about what an AP course entails. This can also be a great opportunity for teachers and coordinators to explain the benefits of taking AP classes, the differences between AP and concurrent enrollment courses, and more details about why to take the AP exam. Both the College Board and IOAPA provide resources to help schools develop these presentations and provide resources to parents and families.
  • Utilize AP exam review. For IOAPA students, online AP exam review is provided through Apex Learning for no additional cost to provide student with opportunities to study and improve their understanding of the subject prior to the exam. For other Iowa students, AP Exam Review is also provided at no cost based on available seats. This format coupled with other opportunities to review for the exam can increase student confidence and willingness to take the exam for their course.
  • Acknowledge student accomplishments. Students work hard in AP courses and to prepare for the exam. Recognize their initiative by honoring them at school awards ceremonies or establishing an AP Exam Breakfast following exams to honor student achievement. Some schools also choose to encourage participation in AP classes through grade weighting or providing funding for students to take AP exams. For some students, this can be the extra push that’s needed to take an AP course over a regular course.
  • Develop a strong support team within your school. Whether offering classes on-site or through channels such as IOAPA, schools must designate an individual to serve as the AP coordinator. This person often coordinates the logistics of helping students sign up for and take exams. However, the AP coordinator’s job is often dependent on the support of other teachers and administrators. Building a team that includes AP teachers, IOAPA mentors, and other staff members can help ensure collaboration on the vision for AP programming at your school.
  • Encourage teachers to receive AP instructor training. In order to develop a successful AP program, teachers must develop and submit a course audit to the College Board to ensure that courses are being taught in a consistent way. For teachers, this can be a daunting task, and providing opportunities for teachers to attend AP training can help. The College Board provides a list of AP Summer Institutes on their website (including APTTI, our AP training institute held in July).

Other helpful resources from the College Board can be found below:

How to start an AP course

AP Programs in Rural Schools

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