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A National Model for Boosting AP Access

A national “How-To” guide for school districts looking to expand student participation in Advanced Placement college prep courses among students of color includes the Long Beach Unified School District and four other school systems “making significant progress in this effort.”

The College Board in partnership with the Council of the Great City Schools produced the guide, “District Leadership Playbook: Expanding Access to Advanced Placement for Students of Color.” Long Beach is referenced repeatedly in the 13-page document:

Examine your data. Long Beach began its efforts to expand AP opportunities in 2004 when data revealed that students of color were under-represented in AP courses.

Secure board support. Long Beach leaders gained early support by making a presentation to board members outlining the goals and strategies of the proposed initiative before formally launching it.

Signal your seriousness. Leaders interviewed for this effort all made sure to demonstrate that the superintendent was leading the charge. For example, Long Beach Superintendent Chris Steinhauser asked principals to send their building action plans for expanding AP access directly to him instead of to their regional superintendents.

Convene school leaders to create action plans. Long Beach Superintendent Chris Steinhauser convened all high school AP leadership teams on a monthly basis to create action plans, analyze data and progress, and share lessons learned. He made it a priority on his calendar to attend monthly meetings until the mission and goals of the initiative became embedded within the district’s culture.

Offer tangible rewards. In addition to ensuring clear messages to students about the real academic and life benefits of AP, superintendents should consider tangible ways to reward students for taking and succeeding in AP courses. In Long Beach, students wear special colors during graduation ceremonies based on their participation and success in AP courses, among other academic achievements.

Equip students and teachers for success. Many districts have instituted “summer bridge” programs for students who will be experiencing AP for the first time the following school year. Such programs provide students with academic strategies and study techniques critical to succeeding in college-level course work. Long Beach has offered an AP Summer Bridge program since 2005.

Share data and be transparent. Long Beach aligned board, superintendent and principal goals for AP expansion and publicly reported progress three times a year. The district has now gone a step further by making campus action plans public.

LBUSD students took nearly 9,000 AP college level exams in 2014. That’s a 20 percent increase over the prior year, and a 154 percent increase over the past 10 years.

The number of local students taking AP exams is expected to increase again this school year because LBUSD is helping parents pay for the exams, which can cost hundreds of dollars per student when tests are taken in multiple subjects.