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East Central ISD Removes Pre-Reqs For Advanced Placement Classes

East Central High School Fall 2020
Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio
East Central High School offers more than 40 AP classes. Next school year, the AP classes will be open to all students.

Next school year, Advanced Placement courses at East Central Independent School District will be open to all students. The district has eliminated a requirement that students first take Pre-AP classes.

“It's really about access and opportunity,” said Dawn Drisdale instructional specialist for advanced academics and gifted and talented at East Central. “If you never get that (opportunity), how do you know that you'll do well?”

Pre-AP classes, offered in middle school and high school, will also now be known as honors classes. Drisdale said the goal of the new name is to reduce stigma.

“A lot of people see it as too hard when they automatically see, ‘Oh, because I wasn't in Pre-AP, I can't do AP. AP is too hard,’” Drisdale said. “And it's not necessarily the case, because (Pre-AP was) still grade level content. It's just taught more rigorously, and the expectation of what's expected of the students is at a higher level as well.”

Amanda Holman, East Central’s director of college, career and military readiness, said another goal of the policy change is to help more students see themselves as “college material.”

“Especially now that we've got AlamoPROMISE, where our students can go, if they graduate from our school, to any of the Alamo Colleges for any two year program completely free of charge, we really want our students to take advantage of that,” Holman said. “Some of those students aren't taking advantage of it because they don't see themselves as college students. They don't feel prepared for college.”

Holman and Drisdale said the district hopes that by encouraging more students to take honors courses at the middle school level, they will feel better prepared to take college-level Advanced Placement courses in high school and start to see college as a viable option.

“If we can get our students to take honors courses, and we can say, look, 'You did a really great job in this course, you can handle that higher level thinking, you can handle that higher level of rigor,'” Holman said. “And (then) those teachers are pushing kids into AP courses, then at that level, we can say, 'You've been successful at a collegiate level class already, what makes you not college material?'”

Drisdale is a member of a district steering committee working to improve equity at East Central. She said removing enrollment requirements for AP courses is part of a larger shift the district is making.

“Two years ago, maybe three, we went for algebra for all at our eighth grade level, and we saw significant increases in scores,” Drisdale said. “The students met the expectation — surpassed the expectations across the board — because (they) were all given that opportunity.”

Like many districts across the country, East Central’s advanced classes have historically been disproportionately white. A growing number of districts have removed enrollment restrictions in recent years as part of a push to make honors classes more equitable and accessible.

Holman said the district’s goal is to have AP classes reflect East Central’s demographics.

“Our white students were self-selecting the courses more frequently. And we saw that our Black African American students were taking them much less frequently. And then our Hispanic population of students was pretty much on par with the population of students that we have,” Holman said.

Holman and Drisdale said they have plans in place to make sure students have the support they need to be successful in more challenging courses.

Holman said eighth graders are required to take a college and career readiness course that teaches students study skills like note taking, and teachers give students grades on their study habits separately from grades on their academic performance.

Drisdale said East Central sends their honors teachers to Advanced Placement Institutes over the summer to become experts in teaching specific AP subjects with “higher rigor strategies and tools,” and trained in the state’s required Gifted and Talented foundational hours.

East Central offers 42 AP courses across two high schools, and nine honors courses across two middle schools.

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Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@TPR.org and on Twitter at @cmpcamille. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.