District aims to increase Black students and English Language Learners in AP courses


For the past several years, a task force of educators within Dallas ISD has been focused on creating supports for students, teachers and campuses within the district in hopes of building enrollment, increasing Advanced Placement (AP) coursework and heightening achievement.

That work has taken on even more importance since the passage last spring of the Board of Trustee’s resolution to address inequities for Black students and English Learners on issues ranging from over-representation in discipline statistics to under-representation in Advanced Placement classes and talented and gifted programming.

Of the 13,449 students enrolled in at least one AP course, 2,101, or 15.6% are Black and 4,194, or 31.2% are English Learner students. Administrators are taking steps to improve those numbers through support for students and teachers, offered through Advanced Academic Services, said Mitch Morken, the department’s director.

“The goal is to have all students [who “meet and master” a given subject on the STAAR test]enrolled in a Pre-AP course”  for that subject, Morken said.

In a major step toward that end, the district has instituted a core content “opt-out” policy for Pre-AP math and science courses starting in sixth grade. What this means in practice is that all students who “meet and master” the subject content in fifth grade will be automatically enrolled in the sixth grade Pre-AP track, rather than leaving enrollment up to chance, said Oswaldo Alvarenga, assistant superintendent of STEM.

Arlena Gaynor, the district’s executive director for Language and Literature,  said that in Reading and Language Arts, “We modeled what math and science did, and we ensured that there was automatic enrollment for students who scored at the meets or masters level into the Pre-AP pathway for Reading and Language Arts and social studies. That policy is in effect right now, but will impact the student schedule for next school year. “

Other direct steps to support students include:

  • Summer 2020 – AP Student Virtual Boot Camp attended by 125 students
  • AP Distance Learning Kits – To support hybrid learning for AP science courses (Biology, Environmental Science, Chemistry, and Physics)
  • Virtual Lab and Simulations Subscriptions for AP science courses – To support hybrid learning
  • Virtual AP student prep sessions – 8 total, 2 each in English, Math, Science and Social Studies
  • AP Ambassadors Program – Identifies an AP Ally (a sponsor) and AP Ambassadors (AP students) at each campus.

Steps to support teachers include:

  • A stipend for 11 AP lead teachers to assist with AP content support to:
    • Support new AP teachers and struggling AP teachers
    • Facilitate Professional Learning Communities for teachers, made up of AP content teachers from different campuses
  • AP Science Laboratory Institute training:
    • AP Physics Laboratory Institute (Summer 2021)
    • Virtual AP Chemistry Laboratory Institute (currently underway)

“For all of these supports, we target and focus on our campuses in need first,” Morken said. “We will actually go to those campuses and leave it open for them to register first – their students, their teachers. Once they’ve had time to opt in, then we fill the seats with others.”

In addition, said Richard Heffernan, executive director of Bilingual ESL, “There are a host of Pre-AP and AP courses that are officially a part of the secondary dual language program. So that’s another avenue we have to include more English learners in the Pre-AP and AP course work, in addition to having opened the dual language School for the Talented and Gifted in Pleasant Grove.”

Being placed on Pre-AP tracks will allow students to take courses for high school credit in eighth grade, Alvarenga said. And because Reading and Language Arts does not offer as many advanced courses as are available in math and science, Gaynor is working with other content directors to focus on the curriculum in a task force that has been assembled.

“One of the elements they will discuss is what are some things that we can accelerate at the middle school level if that’s a possibility, and what additional courses can we bring at the high school level,” said Tiffany Huitt, deputy chief for Teaching and Learning. Huitt said the task force, while it formed organically, will focus in response to the racial equity work taking place in the district.

For example, said Juana Valdespino-Gaytan, executive director of Social and Emotional Learning, “For the boot camps, we targeted our schools that are highly populated with African American students.” She said administrators this year are “exploring how to provide more access to AP classes for schools  across the district who might not have the teachers but are looking at creating access in the coming years.”


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