Providing Equitable Course Offerings

Strategically plan to ensure all students have equal access to advanced courses
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About This Strategy

Traditional strategies for placing students in advanced courses (prerequisite courses, minimum GPA, & teacher or counselor recommendations) have led to underrepresentation of girls and students of color in Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and other rigorous courses throughout the country.  This is not because these groups of students lack potential, but rather, because of systemic barriers such as inadequate efforts to make students and families aware of course offerings, lack of preparation and support, and poor methods of qualifying students for these classes.  This strategy provides school leaders with tools to reflect on current practices and policies and make action plans regarding advanced course placement and availability in their building.  

Implementation Steps

  1. Read the section entitled "Equitable Access to Advanced Courses" (pg. 9-13) from "Best Practices in Educational Equity" (included in resource section below) to familiarize yourself with this problem in schools and some research-based solutions.

  2. Gather the course enrollment data from your school.  Use the included note catcher to analyze your enrollment data and find trends.  

  3. Identify one group of students in your school that is underrepresented in advanced courses.  Use the note catcher to set a SMART goal for that student group.  Additional resources about SMART goals are included below.

  4. Brainstorm possible barriers to these students' enrollment and solution strategies. 

    • If a barrier is awareness of course availability, consider some of these solutions:

      • Hold a school event for parents explaining which advanced courses are offered, how they benefit students, and what students need to do in order to prepare and qualify.

      • Encourage students to enroll in at least one advanced course per year with assemblies, announcements, and flyers.

      • Enhance outreach efforts, particularly for low-income families and families with students of color by using targeted phone calls with invitations to parent information meetings.

    • If a barrier is qualification, consider some of these solutions:

      • Use standardized test scores (PSAT, NWEA MAP, or Practice ACT) to qualify students instead of GPA, recommendations, or prerequisite courses.

      • Provide students with opportunities to complete courses over the summer, weekend and/or evening tutoring, or homework help groups if they do not qualify for courses, but would like to enroll.

    • If a barrier is preparation and support for students in advanced courses, consider the following solutions:

      • Work with middle schools to use standardized test scores to pre-identify qualified students.  Provide these students with opportunities for summer prep courses or after-school enrichment courses.

      • Ensure that your district has Algebra 1 opportunities for 8th graders who are ready.  Students who complete Algebra 1 in 8th grade are better prepared to take advanced mathematics courses at the high school level, and are more likely to attend college.

      • Provide a wide range of advanced course offerings.  Many schools offer AP Calculus and AP Physics, but not all students are interested in a STEM Career Pathway.  Provide teachers with opportunities and resources to teach IB Art, AP History, College-level writing, and other advanced humanities courses so that students interested in any career pathway can find something that interests them.

  5. After brainstorming, use the note catcher to create an action plan for implementing your solutions.  Identify the partners you will need, where you might secure funding, and create a timeline for implementing your solutions.

  6. You can repeat this process for multiple groups of students or multiple solutions.

Consulted Resources

In developing this strategy, the resources linked below were consulted.