AP courses are bridge to college

Classes can also help narrow the achievement gap

GREAT TEACHERS NOT ONLY LOVE to teach, they love to learn how to be even better teachers. That’s why over 520 teachers from Massachusetts and across the country gathered recently this summer to sharpen their skills at teaching Advanced Placement courses that provide high school students the chance to earn college credit.

For the teachers, you could call it summer school on academic steroids. But the training has a greater purpose: The skills the teachers bring back to their schools will help expand AP class offerings, ultimately inspiring more students to attend and complete college. In a state with drastically uneven educational outcomes, bringing more AP opportunities to poorer urban districts also provides one of the most targeted methods to bridge the achievement gap.

Held at Bridgewater State University, the Advanced Placement Summer Institute trained teachers on approaches to impart a variety of AP subjects, including physics, chemistry, calculus, statistics, and computer science. The teachers appreciate the training and especially value the opportunity to learn from each other.

And the teachers certainly agree on one thing: Their students overall gain enormous benefits from the AP classwork. The challenge and excitement of the courses and preparing for the end-of-year exam yield academic dividends for years to come. AP students across socio-economic lines tend to have better college completion rates. It certainly helps to start college with a head start: credits in the bank.

Our economy is begging for more college graduates, especially in STEM fields, but too many high school students, particularly those of color, don’t envision college in their future. Yet the Commonwealth is facing a shortage of as many as 52,000 bachelor’s degree holders by 2025, according to a 2016 Department of Higher Education study. When students experience the rigor of college-level coursework and rise to the challenge, the option of attending college doesn’t seem as daunting.

With limited resources, school districts often need assistance growing robust AP programs that include diverse students. Mass Insight Education, a nonprofit dedicated to closing achievement and opportunity gaps, has been in the business of expanding AP offerings for nine years by partnering with high schools to recruit underserved students into AP classes and working to ensure their success.

The results have been impressive: Of the 23,000 students who participated in Mass Insight Education’s AP STEM and English program and graduated from high school since the 2008-2009 school year, 78 percent have gone on to attend college – 90 percent of those students have persisted through two years of college, and 81 percent have either graduated from college or are on track to graduate. The numbers are similar for students of color – 88 percent have persisted through two years of college, and 78 percent have either graduated from college or are on track to graduate.

Last year Massachusetts’ ranked number one in the nation for the percentage of students receiving passing scores on AP exams. But our work is far from done. Too many students are left behind — more rigorous instruction, starting in middle school, would prepare more students for the demands  of AP coursework in their high school years.

With higher education as the goal, we need more bridges between our K-12 system to help them get there. AP coursework is one of those crucial pathways — benefiting not only individual students but also raising academic performance across the board at high schools.

Meet the Author

Susan F. Lusi

President and CEO, Mass Insight Education
As Massachusetts weighs policies to improve early-college experiences for high school students, AP coursework remains an outstanding way to inspire more students to attend and complete college. And it starts with great teachers who are committed to bringing rigor and intellectual excitement to the classroom.

Susan F. Lusi is president and CEO of Mass Insight Education.