As a lead teacher, I help support AP English teachers throughout Pasadena Independent School District in various capacities. My tasks include procuring educational resources, instructional coaching, organizing Advanced Placement Saturday prep sessions and tutorials, clarifying curriculum, and organizing unit and mock exams.
Our district is 83.3% Hispanic, 7.4% African American, 5.5% White and 3% Asian. Fifty-nine percent of our student population is categorized as at risk, while 78.8% is economically disadvantaged, and 29% is limited English proficiency.
We have always supported the AP program to ensure all our students can improve their opportunities for higher education regardless of their background. Twice in the past 10 years, Pasadena ISD has earned the College Board AP District Honor Roll distinction, which recognizes school districts committed to increasing access to AP for underrepresented students while simultaneously maintaining or increasing the percentage of students earning AP Exam scores of 3 or higher. Here’s how we’re maintaining that commitment despite the challenges of a hybrid learning environment.
Open access for all
Right now, the learning environment at Pasadena ISD includes a mix of students who are present in the physical classroom and students who participate virtually simultaneously. It is extremely challenging for everyone involved, but our students deserve quality education despite the circumstances.
To maximize equity, our AP courses are open access, so any student who wants to take rigorous courses can. The district further supports our students by providing resources for instruction. Unlike some other districts, before the pandemic, most of our students were already equipped with district-assigned technology.
Once the pandemic hit, our digital resources were limited to the AP classroom. We didn’t have permission to post our hard copy resources digitally. Thankfully, we had piloted a digital resource called UWorld’s Learning Tools for AP Courses, so all we had to do was assign the practice that our students needed. We know that students outside our demographic profile often have the means to pay for resources on their own, but our students do not.
Legendary educator Jaime Escalante once said that “Math is the great equalizer,” and I say that “AP scores are the great equalizer,” because a 5 on the AP exam is a 5 no matter where you’re from or how much money your parents make.
Discounted exam fees and other incentives
The College Board provides a $33 fee reduction per AP Exam for eligible students with financial need. Schools are expected to forgo their $9 rebate for these students, resulting in a cost of $53 per exam. However, Pasadena ISD supports our students by offsetting the cost even further. Our students pay only $15-$25 for a $95 exam. We try to make sure that if a student wants to take the AP exam, they are offered the opportunity to do so. There are many hidden gems out there, and we want to make sure they have the opportunity to shine.
About 13 years ago, our district participated in a grant from the Dell Foundation that incentivized students for doing rigorous work, attending Saturday prep sessions and after-school tutorials, and achieving qualifying scores on their AP exams. The program yielded such positive results that the district deemed it important to continue to support our students beyond the grant. Although not as financially robust as the Dell grant, Pasadena ISD’s commitment to AP students includes a viable incentive for our students to perform well.
Looking to the future
I believe that even after the pandemic subsides, we will continue to move into virtual land, and this magical place will continue to grow as more and more institutions adopt online testing. The state of Texas is already transitioning its state-mandated STAAR test into an online platform. Many people believe that the College Board will eventually do the same with AP, SAT and ACT testing. Some exams are already online, and Forbes reports a rise in online learning, stating that “even before the pandemic, Research and Markets forecasts the online education market as $350 billion by 2025.”
I will continue to support my AP students by incorporating online and asynchronous learning into my face-to-face classroom. No matter what the circumstances, our teachers will continue to do what is best for kids because that is what kids expect‚ and because that is what they deserve.
Eve Emmons is the AP English lead teacher and teaches AP English Literature and Composition at Pasadena Independent School District in Pasadena, Texas, where she uses UWorld’s Learning Tools for AP Courses. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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