AP Annual Conference 2023

An Action Plan for Building an Equitable and Inclusive AP Program

“I believe talent has been distributed equally but not developed equally,” said Dixie Ross, retired AP Calculus teacher and co-presenter at an AP Annual Conference session on how school and district leaders can build an equitable and inclusive AP program. This belief has led her to a lifetime of work to champion student talents, regardless of the zip code or demographic of the students she’s served.

Ross and Kenneth Tucker, a school administrator and former AP U.S. History teacher, shared tips and strategies for an action plan participants could take back to their schools and districts and immediately implement. 

Consider What Works and What Doesn’t

After explaining why an inclusive AP program is important to them and their school community, Tucker urged attendees to question whether their programs truly supported their inclusion goals. Are their honors classes inhibiting the growth of AP classes? Are their advanced coursework options limited to only students in gifted and talented programs?

Other items for consideration:

  • Find your allies. Who else will you need to support you in these efforts? Acknowledge that the “why” of building an inclusive AP program may be different for your colleagues, but the end game will be the same. Make sure you’re developing a pipeline of capable leaders in case someone leaves or retires. 
  • Take a look at your sources of information. Do an audit to see what readily available data your district has. Don’t just look at data for one year. Review trends over several years. Be sure to use the free AP Potential tool to identify not only students likely to earn AP Exam scores of 3 or higher but also students with the potential to earn scores of 2. Research shows taking AP also benefits these students in college. At the end of the course, make sure students fill out surveys so their voices are included.
  • Identify bright spots. Don’t dwell on deficiencies. What’s working well can serve as a launching point. Is there a teacher with a reputation for supporting students, an active extracurricular club, or a local business that would want to partner with you? Are there existing AP students who can serve as ambassadors to students new to AP?

Challenge Beliefs That May Create Barriers

Name the barriers your school is facing in order to challenge them. Are parents concerned about AP hurting a student’s GPA? Initiate a conversation to help change attitudes. Is there a cost barrier? Illustrate how the cost of an AP Exam is a small investment toward a potentially huge savings on college tuition. 

Another common belief is that students need to have a solid grasp of basic skills before they can begin to engage in complex learning tasks. Ross recommends that teachers start the journey with the student and fix the problems along the way. One resource that helps with support and scaffolding is AP Classroom. Ross’s theory is that “It’s not an either/or 
situation—it should be both/and. You can address deficiencies while also allowing students to engage with rich content.” 

At the end of the session, educators spent time reflecting on what ideas they wanted to take back to their school communities. 

“Don’t forget that as you make a change, other processes may need to change in conjunction with that,” Ross advised. She described a policy change she once oversaw to let students drop an AP course in a small window rather than at random times. The new, streamlined process, facilitated by one designated person, yielded a lot of extra information about students’ motivations that needed to be examined. 

The presenters concluded by telling attendees that although the building blocks for an inclusive AP program will look different in every school setting, they should remember this: ”It’s your job to create the AP student. They’re not going to come to you that way.”