Raising Rigor in a Suburban District

Students in the Advanced Placement environmental science course at Glenbard North High School in Carol Stream, Ill., with teacher Deborah Karavites-Uhl (center).
David F. Larson, superintendent of the Glenbard Township High School District 87 in suburban Chicago, offers suggestions for education leaders for pursuing equity in high-level instruction.

In his district, 44 percent of all high school seniors will have taken at least one AP course by the time they graduate. Notably, course participation disaggregated by subgroup shows the number of low-income Latino students doubled between 2015-16 and 2017-18 and tripled for low-income African American students during the same time frame. Enrollment in AP classes by low-income white and Asian students in Glenbard Township almost doubled.

These are Larson’s seven ideas for closing the gap in AP course taking.

» NO. 1: Spend time with your principals and key teacher leaders at the outset to discuss your beliefs about which students can take AP courses. All of our schools have an unwritten understanding of which students are good candidates for AP courses, and some of these preconceptions need to be eliminated at the start.

» NO. 2: Communicate a clear implementation timeline at the outset. The Equal Opportunity Schools toolkit works, but it can be very disruptive if staff do not feel like they know when each step in the work is scheduled to take place.

» NO. 3: Be wary of suggestions to remove entire categories of students from your outreach lists (English language learners, students with disabilities, students with disciplinary records, students falling below a high GPA cutoff). If you do this, you will miss students with the assets to succeed.

» NO. 4: Train your trusted adults — those with charisma who have the closest relationships with students — before dispatching them to engage students in recruitment conversations. These teachers and counselors are your biggest lever in showing students they have the capacity to succeed. It is important these conversations be well planned so they are welcoming and encouraging interaction.

» NO. 5: Do not be surprised when students with the assets to succeed are initially reticent to commit. Politely refuse to accept their first “no” — just like the basketball coach recruiting the tall freshman unsure about playing. Schedule a second round of out-reach and recruitment as you begin the first round under the assumption some students will need multiple contacts before they commit.

» NO. 6: Provide targeted professional development to support the shift in mindset you are asking teachers to make.

» NO. 7: After you launch your supports, don’t just let them run. Instead, scrutinize, systematize and normalize them so they are effective.