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AP® Classes Are Not Just for Gifted Students

The Advanced Placement® program was originally designed for academically advanced students in elite schools. But today, over 80% of high schools in the United States offer AP® courses and more students are taking advantage of the opportunity. 
However, the belief that AP is exclusively for "smarter" individuals remains among many students, parents, teachers and school administrators. The truth is that every high school student can take AP classes. With proper preparation, AP coursework can be a tool that helps students develop college-level skills, knowledge and habits.

How Do Students Excel with AP classes?


Many of us know AP courses can boost GPA, strengthen college applications and help students earn college credit. But it also prepares students for the rigors of college-level coursework, including the pace of learning, sense of commitment, time management, confidence and other skills needed to succeed in higher education and the workplace. 
former National Math and Science Initiative student, who is now a computer analyst for Dynetics, credits NMSI's College Readiness Program for broadening his understanding of computer science. His experience taking AP Math and AP Calculus placed him ahead of his college freshmen peers when it came to the discipline and skills needed to complete assignments and prepare for exams. 
Many students from NMSI schools echo the same success. After one year of CRP, schools see an average 41% increase in AP participation and an average 35% increase in college readiness for all students, with similar growth for female, Black and Latino students who are often left behind. 
But AP achievement doesn't just come from students' effort; it takes a proverbial village to achieve Advanced Placement success.


Preparing Students for AP courses

Despite the vast number of schools offering AP classes, many students still do not believe they are AP-worthy. Some educators and parents still hold onto the notion that AP classes are for gifted students only. This learning perspective is "a fixed mindset" – a term coined by Stanford University education professional Dr. Carol Dweck – that is based on a belief that a person is either inherently talented or not. 
However, when schools can view AP classes as a gateway for ALL students to grow academically and prepare themselves for college, students reap great benefits. Dr. Dweck dubs this concept as the "growth mindset,” which is a belief that all students can improve their intelligence, skills and performance. In other words, the way that students perceive their own ability can impact how successful they are in the classroom – and in other valuable life situations.  
So how do we shift the ingrained perception about AP classes being for a certain type of student?

  1. We reposition Advanced Placement classes as opportunities for a wider range of learners by sharing the course expectations, the support they’ll receive and the ways AP courses can prepare them for college and careers.

  2. We provide comprehensive professional development and resources to support hard-working teachers and busy administrators who may be overwhelmed by the thought of the additional responsibilities that AP classes could involve.

  3. We shift the AP culture in schools by educating administrators, teachers, students and parents that advanced classes are no longer an exclusive learning experience but a pathway to prepare all students for college.

A New York City AP U.S. Government high school teacher and his AP students formed an AP for All advocacy group in 2019. In the first year, they planned an AP recruitment drive, encouraged several football team members to take and promote advanced classes, and launched a phone bank to inform incoming high school students and their parents about signing up for AP classes. The efforts of this NMSI partner led to 53 more students taking AP compared to the previous school year.
Taking an AP course will help students develop new skills, but they need to prepare themselves in order to optimize the benefits of participating. They should ask themselves the following questions or discuss them with a guidance counselor:

  • Is it simply for college credit?

  • If it's for college credit, will the prospective college accept the AP class?

  • Are they seeking a challenge?

  • Are they “testing the waters” of more rigorous coursework?

Whatever their reason, it’s important to do some research and make sure the class(es) they choose will support their goals.


Preparing Teachers and District Leaders for AP Classes


Creating a culture of AP inclusiveness doesn’t happen overnight. And although it requires a robust commitment, it can be accomplished efficiently and effectively when you have the right partners on your team. When moving from a gated AP environment or one that feels exclusive, a vertical alignment strategy can contribute to a more inclusive culture for Advanced Placement learning
Georgia's Clayton County Public Schools has an open-door policy for enrolling in AP courses, but that wasn't always the case across the district's 12 high schools. To encourage all students to take advanced classes, CCPS partnered with NMSI and introduced advanced learning opportunities starting with middle school. This helped to develop a mindset that taking accelerated classes is the normal – or even expected – path forward.
A successful vertical alignment requires significant coordination, but you certainly don't have to do it alone. Here are a few ways NMSI provides hands-on support to build inclusive mindsets and practices that deliver sustainable success:

  • We help teachers with pacing and content guides aligned to College Board course and exam requirements.

  • We deliver relevant, engaging Professional Development for teachers who crave actionable content.

  • We provide leadership training to develop equitable mindsets and ensure that local practices support all students and teachers.

  • We also have a network of in-house coaches facilitating AP teachers, Pre-AP teachers from elementary to high school and school leaders. 

Cultivating A Culture of Success

It's time to kick the traditional AP mindset to the curb and start viewing Advanced Placement coursework as a pathway for students to develop college-level skills. When we build a strategic framework of support for teachers, students and administrators, we can shift to a paradigm in which no student’s ability is underestimated or unfulfilled.
When you’re ready to expand your impact on today’s students – and tomorrow’s leaders – turn to NMSI’s proven methods for infusing a growth mindset into your district’s culture. Contact us to schedule a consultation today!