March/April 2018

Practical PR Closing the AP enrollment gap

By Peg Mannion
Peg Mannion, APR, is community relations coordinator in Glenbard Township High School District 87, Vice President for North Central Region of National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) and a Board of Directors member with the Illinois chapter of the National School Public Relations Association (INSPRA).

No matter their socioeconomic background, every parent has hopes and dreams for their son or daughter. Parents recognize that a livable income isn’t possible with only a high school diploma. They believe we’re getting students ready for education beyond high school, and that’s why having all students experience college rigor while in high school is so important for our students.

Glenbard Township High School District 87 emphasizes a growth mindset with students ― teaching students that their skills can improve with hard work. As students develop their abilities and interests, we challenge them to stretch themselves by taking more rigorous classes, including Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Many universities and colleges offer college credit, advanced placement, or both, for qualifying AP exam scores. Students who earn a score of 3 or higher on an AP exam are entitled to receive college credit at any Illinois public university or college.

In the past several years, Glenbard District 87 has made intentional efforts to increase the number of students taking AP classes, and despite significant Advanced Placement enrollment increases, the district is seeing an upward trend of Advanced Placement success.

Among the Class of 2017, 44 percent of graduates passed at least one AP exam. That’s a 47 percent increase since 2010. The Board of Education’s goal is that 60 percent of graduates will pass at least one AP exam over their four years at Glenbard.

Since 2015, 483 traditionally underrepresented students (black, Hispanic and low income) have been added to AP classes.

Glenbard District 87 is the third-largest high school district in Illinois, serving 8,100 students from nine western suburbs of Chicago. Demographic breakdown includes 34 percent low-income students and 50 percent white, 23 percent Hispanic, 15 percent Asian, 8 percent black, and 3 percent two or more races.

Equal Opportunity Schools

Like high schools around the country, Glenbard District 87 has a gap when it comes to the number of minority and low-income students enrolled in AP courses. The district is working with the nonprofit organization Equal Opportunity Schools to close the enrollment gap in Advanced Placement that exists between middle- and upper-income white and Asian students and their black, Hispanic, and low-income classmates.

Superintendent David Larson said, “It’s incumbent upon us to identify students for AP classes, advocate for them, support them, and encourage them.”

The Numbers Say It All

This fall semester, Glenbard District 87’s four high schools enrolled 1,008 traditionally underrepresented juniors and seniors in AP courses. Over the last three years, since partnering with Equal Opportunity Schools, the district has seen the following AP enrollment increases:

  • 89 percent for low-income white and Asian students,
  • 124 percent for low-income Hispanic/Latino students, and
  • 196 percent for low-income African-American juniors and seniors

These gains were accomplished by applying the survey tool and data analytics provided by Equal Opportunity Schools to identify students who have the assets to succeed, but were missed through the traditional enrollment process or a lack of parental advocacy. District staff embarked on a relentless outreach and recruitment process. Larson said, “Equal Opportunity Schools’ playbook has a three-part approach:

  • Teachers are making shifts in their classroom necessary to help students who might be experiencing rigor for the first time;
  • Opportunities for students to experience mentoring and group work outside the classroom;
  • Understanding and embracing growth mindset and shifts in thinking that our students need to go through.”

Honest, supportive conversations between students, teachers, and administrators are an important part of the recruitment process. Some students didn’t feel like they belonged in Advanced Placement. They told administrators that no one in AP classes looked like them. Glenbard West High School dean and minority student achievement coordinator Sharon Ruff said, “We have a conversation with students and tell them, “We believe in you.” That’s what students really needed to hear was that sense of belief and sense of belonging.”

Larson emphasizes the importance of talking with faculty and staff members about the need to close the Advanced Placement enrollment gap, saying, “Sometimes we assume everyone gets it; however, there needs to be an opportunity for dissent, [and] time for people to vent and understand the why.”

Glenbard South High School Principal Sandra Coughlin said, “One of our strategies that was very powerful was to have our equity team, which is made up of teachers, counselors, and administrators, create a video to explain to staff the reasons why we were looking at students to close our achievement gap, all of the qualities students could bring to the table, and, most importantly, about the growth mindset needed for both students and staff.”

Last year, Glenbard South was one of seven high schools in Illinois to close its enrollment gap, and the work, to increase the number of under-represented students enrolled in AP classes in all four high schools, continues.

As part of Glenbard South’s outreach plan, Coughlin and her team looked at student data and then selected students to recruit. “We spoke with students and had them explore AP courses they were interested in and had them enroll,” Coughlin said. “As part of our outreach programming to support students, we conducted team-building activities to be sure students had a sense of belonging and belief in themselves.”

The following are additional outreach activities that proved successful:

  • AP student breakfast or lunch with an exit slip indicating which AP class students are interested in
  • AP night for families
  • Letter mailed home with a recommendation for an AP course
  • College night for minority students and families
  • College visits for minority students

In September 2016, the White House and U.S. Department of Education recognized Glenbard District 87 for committing to closing the enrollment gap in AP courses. Glenbard South was honored for being among the less than 1 percent of high schools nationally that have closed their Advanced Placement enrollment gap.

We are proud of how our instructors have changed the life trajectories of hundreds of students by intentionally setting a goal to close the enrollment gap in AP courses by race and income.