This morning we published our new brief, “Systems for Success: Thinking Beyond Access to AP,” an in-depth examination of two high schools that are not only enrolling more traditionally underserved students in AP courses, but also helping them pass at rates above the national average. The brief highlights Alhambra High School in Los Angeles County and YES Prep Southwest in Houston for their commitment to supplement increased access with increased supports for students to ensure successful outcomes in AP classes.

Among many of the schools’ best practices shared, the brief emphasizes the implementation of mentorship programs for teachers, a master schedule to facilitate enrollment and professional development, and vertically aligned curricula to prepare students for higher-level learning at an earlier age. When executed as part of a schoolwide effort, these practices and policies can empower traditionally underserved students to find success in AP courses. Both schools boast a success rate (the percentage of test-takers who pass a year-end exam) of 68 percent, which substantially exceeds the national average (57 percent). School leaders and teachers at Alhambra and YES Prep — where 72 percent and 87 percent of students, respectively, qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch — have defied institutional barriers to access in AP courses, an achievement due in large part to school cultures that combine high expectations with high levels of support for students.

“The inspired leaders highlighted in this brief have two things in common. First, they see past the outdated assumptions that students of color are less capable of AP level work than their White peers. Second, when they create opportunities for their students to enroll in AP classes, they also create schoolwide support programs that enable both the teachers and the students to successfully transition to the rigors of AP coursework,” said Ashley Griffin, our interim director of P-12 research and a co-author of the brief.

While the brief focuses on only two schools, the evidence-based lessons read like a manual for any school leader or teacher interested in improving AP outcomes for traditionally underserved students. Read the full brief here.

Photo credit: Alhambra High School