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by Tracye Wear
Houston Independent School District West Region
Target for Fall 2006 and Beyond
My goal for this fall is to ensure that every Houston Independent School District (ISD) West Region teacher who will teach an AP course in 2007-08 successfully write a syllabus for that course and submit it to the College Board in a timely manner so that the authorized course appears on the ledger for colleges and universities in fall 2007.
To achieve that goal by January 2007, when the College Board will begin accepting submissions, we must accomplish a great deal. When I first heard about the AP Course Audit at a College Board workshop in June 2005, little did I know of the depth and breadth of the planning and work ahead. Nor did I expect the AP Course Audit process to be a great opportunity for professional development.
Our District's Profile
I work in the West Region of the eighth-largest school district in the United States, Houston ISD. As the Education Program Manager for the region, I help build AP programs in five comprehensive high school feeder patterns and one early-college program for high schoolers on a community college campus. Two high schools have strong AP programs: Bellaire High School and Westside High School. In 2006, 798 Bellaire students took 2,038 exams, and 685 Westside students took 1,232 exams. Bellaire's 2006 grades were notably high this year, with 87 percent of students earning a 3 or higher. The other three comprehensive high schools struggle to both prepare students for the exams and get them to sit for the exams. Lee High School administered 148 exams to 78 students, Sharpstown High School administered 159 exams to 91 students, and Westbury High School administered 220 exams to 125 students. Challenge Early College High School gave 56 exams to 53 students.
This stark contrast among the AP programs in the West Region this past year generated conversations about how to strengthen the curriculum in our feeder patterns. The AP Course Audit process is central to these conversations because AP teachers from all our schools are talking together about their syllabi, course rigor, and ways to reach out to and prepare students who do not traditionally take AP courses.
The AP Course Audit posed several challenges for our region. With six high school administrators and approximately 100 AP teachers in the West Region, I knew we would need to develop an organized plan for managing the AP Course Audit. My first step was to distribute information to our administrators and AP teachers to ensure they were aware of the AP Course Audit and its significance. I found that several administrators and teachers did not understand that beginning with the 2007-08 school year, we will not be able to label courses "AP" on student transcripts without authorization from the College Board. The administrators began to worry for two reasons. First, if a 2007-08 course does not get authorized, this could mean that Houston ISD's students were not receiving the college-level experience for which they enrolled. Second, our district weights students' GPAs by adding an "honors" point for each grade in an AP course; if a course is not approved, the school will have to lower the GPAs of students in that course, potentially causing a public relations nightmare.
Initially, some AP teachers in the district resisted the AP Course Audit. These teachers -- who are AP Exam Readers or who have high percentages of students earning exam grades of 3 or higher -- felt that they shouldn't have to submit their syllabi. However, once they saw that the AP Course Audit could serve as a catalyst for teacher collaboration and professional development within the district, their perception of the process as a burdensome requirement changed.
Because our district does not have common AP syllabi or suggested curriculum for AP courses, I knew that I would need to provide support for AP teachers as they prepared their syllabi for the AP Course Audit. Last spring, when I visited each high school to give a presentation about the AP Course Audit, I found that very few syllabi were ready
Hosting a Districtwide AP Course Audit Seminar
I knew I needed to be proactive. I thought about holding "AP Course Audit Camp" for AP teachers so that those teaching the same course could sit down with one another for a few days and talk about writing their syllabi. I pitched the idea to Cyndi Boyd, Houston ISD's Advanced Academics manager. She ably put together the AP Course Audit seminar, a three-day workshop where all Houston ISD teachers who wanted to submit a syllabus could come together to work on syllabus preparation with their subject-specific colleagues and a consultant. Our goal was to have every teacher leave the seminar with a completed syllabus.
I attended the seminar as a participant because I wanted to go through the experience of writing a syllabus from scratch. When I taught AP, I was the type of teacher whose course syllabus spanned three file drawers and included a lot of resources spread throughout my classroom. I also wanted to write a syllabus so that I could talk about the process and provide hands-on support to my AP teachers during their preparations to meet the AP Course Audit deadline.
The AP Course Audit seminar, which took place during the first days of June 2006, grew into a professional learning event for approximately 250 Houston AP teachers. My team of 10 AP Studio Art teachers, both experienced and new to AP, and Charlotte Chambliss, a College Board consultant, worked for three days to prepare syllabi for our four fine arts courses. We projected the curricular requirements from AP Central onto the walls, teachers brought in binders of notes and plans, and we argued over the fine points of the curricular requirements throughout the day. We also fine-tuned assessments, "cut and pasted" each other's words, edited, and shared resources until syllabi for AP Art History, AP Studio Art: Drawing, AP Studio Art: 2-D Design, and AP Studio Art: 3-D Design began to take form. At that point, AP teachers fine-tuned the common syllabi to fit with the programs at their schools. Teachers continued to exchange emails over the summer to share additional ideas and suggestions for the syllabi, especially after teachers attended AP Summer Institutes. At beginning-of-school meetings, the AP art teachers once again exchanged ideas for their syllabi and shared the documents with new AP teachers. The common syllabi written during June began to reflect each art teacher's approach to her or his own AP course.
The AP teachers of languages other than English (LOTE) were equally successful in their ongoing collaborations as a result of the seminar. Alvaro Rodríguez, the district's LOTE manager, worked with his teachers at the seminar and over the summer. They will continue to meet to work on their model syllabi throughout the fall. Rodríguez and the LOTE teachers collaboratively developed introductory course descriptions and a calendar template for AP Spanish Language, AP Spanish Literature, AP French Language, and AP French Literature based on the curricular requirements of each course. This model can be used by all district AP language teachers as they tweak for specificity of their exams and their individual practices. Rodríguez and the AP teachers are working to complete their model syllabi by October.
Unexpected Benefits of Our Audit Processes
We have experienced other unexpected results from the AP Course Audit seminar. For example, Bellaire High School and Westbury High School English teachers have agreed to work together for the upcoming school year. The teachers met twice during the summer and observed each other's classes in September. Bellaire teachers are now searching for strategies to reach out to traditionally underrepresented students, while Westbury teachers have the opportunity to observe experienced Bellaire AP English teachers practice their craft -- a mutually beneficial arrangement.
In addition, the AP U.S. Government and Politics, AP Macroeconomics, and AP Microeconomics teacher at Bellaire High School, Mike Clark, asked the consultant who led the social studies syllabus writing team to return to Houston to train teachers in strategies for reaching out to traditionally underserved students. Mike knows that teachers will have to modify the traditional lecture-all-class-period approach so they can serve students who need other instructional strategies to succeed in AP courses.
The overall success of the AP Course Audit seminar was evident from teacher feedback about the event, excerpted below:
As much as I complained that I didn't have time for R&R between the end of the school year and the seminar dates, it was the best time to meet with our respective team. Our collaboration became a reflective exercise since practices, activities, etc., that did not work and needed to be changed were fresh in our minds, as were things that worked well. We discussed what could be improved upon, made changes to our curriculum, and shared new ideas and methods not only with those with whom we worked each day, but with colleagues from other schools. Collaborating on a new syllabus early in the summer gave us time to rethink, revise, rework, and, of course, read all the recommended texts that everyone so willingly shared. I'd like to see an AP syllabus writing workshop become a yearly offering.
-- Caroline Stento, Westside High School
We were highly productive in creating our syllabus during the seminar with the most valuable element being the chance to collaborate with the Bellaire High School and Westside High School teams. I also think it gave me a broader sense of the direction across the district in terms of teaching styles and curriculum focus. Direct instruction of vocabulary, multiple perspectives of approaching literature versus the historical or formalist approach, Western canon or multicultural works -- the areas of difference were varied, but the one commonality, at least to me, was the intensity and well-developed work ethic of the teachers in attendance. I started the year with a road map and now have a viable frame to plan lessons around.
-- Terri Goodman, Challenge Early College High School
Planning for the Current School Year
At the beginning of this school year, I asked the AP Coordinators at my six high schools to collect draft syllabi from their AP teachers. My plan was to encourage each AP Coordinator to take a leadership role at her or his school for the AP Course Audit process. I also wanted to determine where we were with each syllabus and make sure that the school principals were kept up-to-date.
After the AP Coordinators delivered the draft syllabi, they adamantly requested that each AP course team have an opportunity to meet during the fall semester to finalize their syllabi. The Coordinators heard from their AP teachers that the best way to approach syllabus preparation was to provide them with an opportunity to work collaboratively in a room with their computers, course materials, and resources. Stephanie Matlock, the
AP Coordinator at Westside High School, described why teacher collaboration is
Good AP teaching strategies in one (for example) AP Biology classroom are good AP teaching strategies in another AP Biology classroom. Having the AP teachers meet and collaborate will not only make the task of creating a quality syllabus an easier one, but it will also allow the teachers to share ideas and strategies -- which, in turn, will improve the quality of AP instruction in each classroom. Once school begins, teachers are busy enough, and having AP teachers from each subject join forces to create the best possible syllabus just makes the most sense.
While the AP Course Audit seminar in June got us off to a great start, it was obvious that we needed to host another formal AP Course Audit workshop. Of all the AP teachers in Houston ISD, 50 percent did not attend the first seminar, and another 25 percent still have not completed their syllabi.
Our Advanced Academics manager Cyndi Boyd has once again taken the lead in organizing Houston ISD's AP Course Audit process. She plans to ask seasoned AP teachers to write model syllabi for each AP course. Those teachers will then meet with AP teachers districtwide in November and December to verify that all syllabi are ready for submission. Before our next support sessions take place, it is crucial that all AP teachers consult AP Central to view the syllabus self-evaluation checklist as well as annotated sample syllabi that demonstrate the curricular and resource requirements of the courses. Armed with the updated information, teachers will be able to work on finalizing their syllabi by January.
The AP Course Audit process has produced in-depth conversations about AP courses among AP teachers in Houston ISD. It has also sparked concern about and interest in the ISD's AP program among school administrators. Since I am responsible for expanding AP programs in the West Region, I had to learn everything I could about the AP Course Audit as well as write a syllabus myself in order to better assist our AP teachers through this process. As many of our AP teachers have admitted, this AP Course Audit is long overdue. Our AP programs will be stronger because there will be curriculum clarity and standards about what should be taught in each AP course.
Tracye Wear, the Education Program Manager for Houston ISD's West Region, works to build AP Vertical Teams® in 66 schools. As a 28-year veteran in this urban school district, she has taught studio art at multiple levels, including AP. She has also directed Houston ISD's high school Gifted/Talented magnet program and served as an AP Coordinator. She lives in Houston, is married to an AP English Literature and Composition teacher, and will have a solo art show in a Houston gallery in October.
Annual AP Course Renewals
Beginning in August of each academic year, AP Course Audit administrators are responsible for renewing previously authorized courses that will again be offered. Administrators can renew courses online from their AP Course Audit account.
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