The redesign has been part of the school's efforts to prepare students for Advanced Placement courses, and encourage them to enroll. A student club has helped bring a sense of inclusion and community to the AP program. Last spring, 70 percent of graduating seniors had taken at least one AP exam, including many more low-income African-American and Hispanic students than in the past. Although AP enrollment has grown, exam scores remain about as high as they were a decade ago.
Read National Journal's in-depth profile of Evanston Township High School here.
An Automatic Enrollment Policy: Although most students in the Federal Way Public School district in Federal Way, Wash., are nonwhite, for many years that diversity wasn't reflected in advanced courses. "It sort of became an institutional belief that 'those classes aren't for me,' " says Vince Blauser, executive director of secondary education for the district. "So we set out to change that in policy-driven ways."
Federal Way started to automatically enroll middle and high school students with high test scores into honors, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or Cambridge Preparatory Academy courses in 2010. To withdraw, students would have to speak with a counselor and their teachers. "There was an enormous amount of pushback" from the community, Blauser says; school board meetings got ugly.
But the policy shift worked. Minority enrollment in college-preparatory classes jumped 200 percent in the first year. The district spent federal Race to the Top grant money on professional development for teachers and support services for students. Today, a higher share of low-income and minority students take and pass AP exams.
Changing State Law: Inspired by Federal Way's success, in 2013 Washington state passed a law encouraging districts to enroll all students who meet state standards in more-rigorous courses. "I think every kid's capable of doing this level of work," state Sen. Steve Litzow, a Republican and sponsor of the bill, told KUOW News while the measure was under consideration.
The law also established an academic acceleration incentive program—subject to legislative appropriations—that would set aside money for teacher training, curriculum development, exam fees, and any other costs that districts would incur by adopting a policy like Federal Way's.
Creating Social Support Structures: Fifteen years ago, Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va., started a student group that the staff hoped would increase the number of black and Hispanic boys in accelerated and AP classes. "When we talked to the boys, what we heard was that they really didn't see themselves in the classes," says Principal Chris Willmore.
Boys whose grades average a C or higher at the start of ninth or tenth grade are now invited to join Wakefield's Cohort for Minority Males. Participants get extra academic support, help planning for college, and a chance to bond with each other and with staff members. Cohorts meet every week for lunch. Students get free pizza if they show up wearing a tie. A local philanthropist helps pay for the program, which includes college tours.