In implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states are choosing how to measure and hold schools responsible for how well high school students are prepared for success after graduation. So far, more than half of the states that have submitted their ESSA plans to the U.S. Department of Education intend to include participation in and/or results from Advanced Placement exams in their accountability systems. This is promising, because AP can set students on a trajectory toward college success. AP coursework embodies the critical-thinking skills and rigor demanded in college courses. Students who pass AP exams with a score of 3 or higher receive college credit and are eligible to be placed in courses beyond the introductory level. This can shorten the time to graduation and save money.

And, critically, holding schools accountable for AP access and success for all groups of students can help combat longstanding patterns of low-income students and students of color being shut out of college-level classes, or, when they do have access to these courses, not being set up to be successful in them.

If all students are going to benefit from new expectations around AP access and success, schools and districts must learn from schools that are already experiencing success in eliminating enrollment barriers and putting in places effective systems of support.

In a new brief, we profile two high-poverty schools — Alhambra High School in California and YES Prep Southwest in Texas — that have redefined what it means to have “AP potential” (or the ability to succeed in AP) and have built master schedules and systems of support with an eye toward maximizing enrollment and eventual success on AP exams. They have created curricula that increasingly challenge and prepare students for the rigors of AP. And they hire subject-matter experts and develop and train them to provide the best instruction and support they can offer. The result? Enrollment that proportionately includes students of all races and ethnicities, and success rates that exceed national averages.

The strategies employed at Alhambra and YES Prep may sound straightforward and obvious to some, but they require explicit direction and strategy — things that are difficult to achieve without strong leadership and commitment. As more states look to include AP as a measure of college and career readiness, Alhambra and YES Prep provide a roadmap for other school and district leaders who want to get this right.

Photo courtesy of YES Prep Southwest